Written by Elaine O'Connor, Senior Consultant, Communications and Public Affairs

Fraser Health President and CEO Michael Marchbank learns the ABCs of SLPs while job shadowing Speech Language Pathologist Meara Brown (pictured) at Abbotsford Regional Hospital last week.

What do you do when your CEO pops in to your office to learn about your role?

You offer him an instructional handout, of course.

That was the reflex instinct of Abbotsford Regional Hospital Speech Language Pathologist Meara Brown when Fraser Health President and CEO Michael Marchbank came to visit her last week.

“Of course I made a handout,” Meara laughed sheepishly in recalling her eagerness to share facts about her job in the same way she shares advice with patients. “I’m a speech pathologist!”

Meara had invited Michael to shadow her after an informal coffee chat he hosted recently at Langley Memorial Hospital, where she also works.

Meara asked a question about the role of allied health professionals in Fraser Health’s commitment to provide patients with more care in their community, and then offered Michael an on-the-ground look at how speech language pathologists (SLPs) could help facilitate patient transitions from acute care to community care.

Michael later enjoyed a tour of the hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation centre and learned about an SLP’s role in assisting adult stroke and brain injury patients, plus the frail elderly, to manage impairments in swallowing and speaking. The day included a visit to a medicine unit to meet a young stroke patient Meara was treating with swallowing assessments and communication therapy.

The job shadow was a welcome opportunity to develop some new perspectives on the integration of allied care, Michael said.

“I think it’s important for me to get out and see what goes on at the front lines,” he explained. “Otherwise I could run a risk of getting a bit isolated from our real business, which is caring for patients. I’m lucky to be able to follow people who enjoy what they are doing and will share their work with me, because that helps me in making decisions.”

One of the things that struck him in learning about Meara’s work was seeing how SLPs in acute care work with patients on adapting care plans to their environment and reality.

“I told Michael about a patient I had at Langley a few years ago who was at a very high risk for aspiration and pneumonia, but she said she did not want a feeding tube when she went home,” Meara explained.

“So I worked really closely with one of the dietitians to help her stay as healthy as possible at home and we put together this plan as part of her discharge plan. Well, we didn’t see her back at the hospital for more than 18 months – that was huge with the level of risk she had."

Facilitating the smooth transition of a patient from acute to community is a key priority for leadership, Michael explained, and his visit with Meara provided concrete examples of some of the factors that need to be accounted for.

“There has to be a lot of trust on the side of the acute clinicians,” Meara added. “I have to trust that what I believe can help manage the risks of aspiration and pneumonia will be implemented at home” by care providers and the patient.

In the fall of 2015, Michael spent the day job shadowing a New Westminster Home Health team, an idea borne of his Change Day BC pledge to gain a better understanding of the frontline work Fraser Health does in the community.

He said he’s open to doing more in future, as opportunities come up to enhance his decision-making in key areas related to Fraser Health’s strategic priorities. But no pressure on future job shadow participants – producing handouts isn’t obligatory.

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