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Two leading-edge programs at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre have been recognized at the 16th annual Quality and Innovation Awards. Both programs focus on having specialized conversations with patients or children of cancer patients.
December 18, 2023

Leading-edge HHS cancer care programs recognized with provincial awards

Two leading-edge programs at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC) were recognized on Dec. 8 at the 16th annual Quality and Innovation (QI) Awards, co-sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society and Cancer Quality Council of Ontario in partnership with Ontario Health, Cancer Care Ontario.

These HHS programs focus on having specialized conversations with patients or children about cancer.

“Both these programs play key roles in improving the cancer care experience for our physicians, staff, patients, and their families,” says Neil Johnson, HHS vice president of oncology and regional vice president for the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Cancer Program, Ontario Health – Cancer Care Ontario.

Neil Johnson

The Serious Illness Care Program received the 2023 Quality Award, while the Child Life Specialist Service program received an honourable mention in the Innovation Award category. The annual awards ceremony honours work that improves cancer care delivery in the province through new approaches, processes, products or programs. The people and programs receiving recognition made a significant difference by improving the cancer system through efficiency, the patient experience, cost effectiveness and/or sustainability.

Collage of 10 HHS staff

HHS champions of these recognized programs

“Our cancer care physicians and teams are leaders in providing high-quality, leading-edge care to our patients and their families, and both programs recognized at the 16th annual Quality and Innovation Awards are excellent examples of our deep commitment to person-centred care,” says Dr. Chris Hillis, chief of oncology for HHS.

Dr. Ted Scott, chief innovation officer for HHS, adds, “We are thrilled to receive this recognition, which acknowledges a commitment to ensure HHS providers are equipped to address end-of-life conversations with patients through innovation.”

Georgia Georgiou, JHCC’s director of integrated cancer treatment services, says, “The team’s commitment to continuous quality improvement principles, integrating research and operations, and achieving excellence in patient care is inspiring. I’ve enjoyed supporting them on this impactful journey, and we are grateful to the JHCC Foundation for crucial funding that supported implementing a coaching approach.”

2023 Quality Award for quality conversations

The internationally-recognized Serious Illness Care Program is a hybrid online and in-person course offered to HHS health-care professionals with tools, including a conversation guide, to help engage in early, high-quality talks with patients diagnosed with serious illnesses such as non-curable cancers. The innovative approach at JHCC involves providing this training to all providers in our cancer care teams including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and doctors-in-training.

Other tools include a reference guide for health-care professionals, patient preparation materials and a guide for communicating with families. The program’s structured approach helps health-care professionals have meaningful, beneficial conversations with patients to help in identifying their goals and values early in the disease trajectory while they are still able to make decisions, such as preferences for end-of-life care.

A team of champions supported the program’s rollout at JHCC including Sandra Andreychuk, the Serious Illness Care Program lead for HHS hospital sites; Dr. Oren Levine, a medical oncologist and the program’s medical lead at JHCC; clinical manager Karen Madden; and patient and family advisory committee member Adrienne Sultana.

“This award acknowledges our commitment to supporting patients, and the dedication it has taken to implement this program,” says Andreychuk.

Levine has found the program to be personally helpful in initiating important conversations with patients diagnosed with non-curable cancers.

“It’s really tough to have conversations about serious illness, for patients as well as providers,” he says. “Having such tools to support higher-quality conversations early on has shown to significantly reduce anxiety for patients and improve job satisfaction among clinicians. These conversations also create a foundation for values-based decisions that need to happen over time.”

Every oncology patient needs the opportunity to have open conversations about their wishes with their care provider, adds Madden, clinical manager for JHCC’s clinics and systemic therapy. “It’s a privilege to partner with patients on their journey, wherever their journey may land.”

Innovation Award, honourable mention for helping kids with a parent’s cancer diagnosis

JHCC’s innovative approach to cancer care includes having a child life specialist on staff, supporting the children of cancer patients.

The honourable mention in the Innovation Award category recognizes JHCC’s Child Life Specialist Service, whose champions include psychologist Dr. Karen Zhang; child life specialist Bridget Veltri; child life services clinical leader Tracy Akitt; and radiation oncologist Dr. Jonathon Sussman.

“This program recognizes that a cancer diagnosis affects the whole family,” says Zhang, adding that the position at JHCC became permanent after a successful pilot. “Many of our patients, especially those with young children, are concerned with how to tell their children about their cancer diagnosis, and worry about how their children will cope. Our child life specialist position supports children as well as their parents.”

Children and youth deserve to know about a parent’s diagnosis in an honest, accurate way that they can understand, adds Veltri. “They need to know ways it will affect their family, to reduce and prevent any misconceptions that can cause emotional distress and behavioural issues.”

JHCC is the only hospital in the province with a child life specialist on staff in an adult oncology program. “It’s an innovative model that has proven to benefit children and their parents,” says Zhang.

“Being recognized is nice way to spread the word to other centres, and may encourage them to consider this model of care.”