Trying to resolve a challenging issue with a utility company or a large retailer has left all of us feeling powerless at times. But the stakes are even higher when someone’s health and well-being is concerned.

Marlene Ross can testify to this first hand. In October of last year, a close friend was admitted to the QEII Health Sciences Centre after experiencing a debilitating stroke. Not long after, Marlene began to hear reports of their “less than gentle” experience in the medical system.

“Things got dropped,” Marlene reports. “Things got left aside.”

With her friends rapidly losing their faith in the system, Marlene made a quick call to someone she knew in the Patient Relations department.

“I called Denice Klavano, gave her a run down, and she kept saying ‘Don’t worry about it, Marlene. I’ll look into it.’”

Within a week, Denice had arranged a meeting which resulted in a vast improvement in her friend’s circumstances.

“She and her husband literally cried over how quickly things happened and how compassionate and caring Denice was,” Marlene reports.

According to Laura Brine, manager of Patient Relations, their department is meant to act as “facilitators of resolution.”

“Our role is to work together with patients, our physicians and staff to address issues of concern to come up with a reasonable solution. Valuable insights provided through patient experience is used to identify opportunities for quality improvement and capture service excellence or compliments.”

As Denice states, the issues can vary quite a bit.

“Patients and families come to us when they have a concern or complaint around their physical or psychological care,” she says. “It can involve hurt feelings or interactions where they felt dismissed. A lot of it revolves around communication.”

Laura observes that the solutions are just as diverse.

“We might meet with patients or talk with them via phone or email to discern what the issue is and then determine if and how we can help. Sometimes we can provide them with information or coach them on how the system works and they can address the issue on their own. Sometimes they want us to assist them in bringing their concern forth. The process is really flexible and based on how the patient or family wants to proceed.”

Sometimes the problems run deeper and require a different approach.

“There can be bigger meetings where the care team might be present along with the patient and family members as we address multiple and complex issues,” Laura says. “So it ranges from something that's easier to sort through to something that requires contact with multiple areas of care and administration.”

This internal collaboration is often imperative to the process.

“We’re grateful to the managers, directors and physicians who treat the role with respect and understanding,” Laura says. “We have a good collaborative relationship with everyone in the system and they respect the opportunity for patients to come forward with concerns because it helps them improve.”

When it comes to defining the attributes that make for a good patient relations specialist, Laura is quick to acknowledge Denice.

“She’s patient and understanding. She possesses deep listening skills and the ability to sort through the sometimes-chaotic factors at play.”

Denice also notes that flexibility, sensitivity and a desire to help people are all critical.

“I care about what’s happened to them and how they feel,” she says.

According to Marlene, Denice’s commitment is one of her strongest assets.

“When she says she’s going to call you back she calls you back, she doesn’t put you off,” she says. “She’ll even call you to say ‘I’m working on it. I told you I’d call you today. I’m still waiting for my answers so please be patient and I’ll contact you tomorrow’. And that’s rare.”

“She also has years of experience in common courtesy and compassion which is essential for that job,” Marlene continues. “You might not always get good news but if you’re told something in a caring and compassionate way, it’s so much easier to absorb.”

Particularly gratifying for Laura and Denice is providing knowledge and insight meant to empower patients and help them move forward.

“The more people know about how health care works today the more they’re able to manage their own health care,” Laura says.

Ultimately, Denice is quick to encourage people to contact Patient Relations if they need additional support.

“We’ll help you in any way we can or steer you in the right direction.”

Marlene’s example illustrates just how helpful that phone call or email can be.

“My friends are now content and happy so I have to say a special ‘thank you’ to Denice,” she says.

To contact patient relations at the QEII, call 902 473 2133 or