Working Shoulder-to-Shoulder in an Age of Physical Distancing

by Nadine Morris Jennifer Zelmer, President and CEO | 21 Apr, 2020 | 21 Apr, 2020

As I write this blog, the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. These are tough, challenging times. Glimmers of hope and inspiration come from health systems in Canada and around the world responding to the challenge in creative and innovative ways that serve their communities’ needs.

We are deeply grateful to all those working to ensure the health of everyone in Canada and globally, including CFHI staff with skills needed for immediate pandemic response who have volunteered to support the effort. Like many others, we too know and care for people who have been directly affected by COVID-19. Our thoughts are with them and others affected, as well as those who have tragically lost loved ones during the pandemic.

At CFHI, we have been engaging with our partners to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic for some time. In this very busy time, adding value not noise is our mantra! Consistent with our strategy, we remain committed to supporting our partners to deliver more improvement with, and for, more people that lasts. But what it means to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the health sector has evolved. Most obviously, this means enabling virtual ways of connecting and pivoting our programs to focus on immediate priorities during this unprecedented time.

Doubling down on enabling better care closer to home and community is a continued focus. Examples include use of e-consults, supporting management of chronic conditions at home so that people need to visit hospitals less often, person-centred care in long-term care, new models of home palliative care, and embedding palliative approaches in long-term care. And we’re hearing from teams we work with about why this work particularly matters now:


“I want to thank you for your incredible Priority Health Innovation Challenge (PHIC). At a time where extreme measures have been put in place due to Coronavirus (i.e. hospital services being closed, postponed clinic visits/diagnostic testing and respiratory resources falling short) the challenge funds have enabled some continued respiratory care for our most complex vulnerable patients in the community. . . Over the next few weeks these home visits will stop the spread, keep children safe and optimally managed on their respiratory supports and keep them out of the Intensive Care Units, which are already past capacity. A simple thank you is not enough; CFHI’s health innovation challenge has the potential for an even greater impact then we had ever imagined.”

PHIC team from The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario


At the same time, we recognize that while health systems across the country are urgently responding to today’s needs, we can be a strategic reserve – looking a bit ahead to begin to address problems that our partners active in immediate response may not able to focus on right now.

With the Canadian Patient Safety Institute and other partners, for example, we are seeking meaningful and effective ways of partnering with patients, family members and their other care partners, with the goal of tapping into their insights to improve care and policies in a pandemic context. For instance, COVID-19 has led to rapid changes to policies and practices as organizations manage the tension between patient- and family-centred and partnered care, and infection control and safety. Yet there are also a number of creative solutions springing up across the country. Our first webinar in a new series shines a light on this issue. Our next webinar in a series dedicated to facilitating discussions about emerging issues, policies and practices impacting patient engagement and partnership during COVID-19 focuses on supporting the emotional well-being and mental health of patients and families.

In addition, we are focusing on enabling essential non-COVID-19 care. In doing so, we’re bringing forward creative solutions and hard-won lessons learned from countries ahead of us on the pandemic curve, as well as building on Canadian experiences and models of care that address this challenge in rural and remote communities, as well as urban centres.

Throughout, as we announced in February, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute and CFHI continue to pursue an amalgamation to form a single quality and safety organization with expanded capacity to improve healthcare for everyone in Canada. I realize that with many competing priorities you may not be thinking about the amalgamation of our two organizations, but I wanted to assure you that this work continues and seems even more necessary now than when we embarked on this journey. Likewise, we have joined with other partners in a network of health organizations with pan-Canadian mandates in order to help coordinate our work in pandemic response.

I want to close by emphasizing our commitment to working shoulder-to-shoulder (virtually) with you while our premises are closed to meet the COVID-19 challenge. If there is a specific way we can support you, please reach out. We are all in this together.