When Jamie Herman picks up the phone, the person on the other end of the line is usually angry or upset. But Herman and his colleague Terri Hansen-Gardiner don’t take it personally. As client representatives, it’s all a part of their job.

Client Representatives Terri Hansen-Gardiner and Jamie Herman.

Client Representatives Terri Hansen-Gardiner and Jamie Herman.

Client representatives oversee the Region’s concern management process for client or family members who may be troubled with their care or that of a loved one in Saskatoon Health Region. Client representatives also handle ‘kudos’ calls if a client or family member shares a great experience. They then pass that good news on to the care teams.

“When clients and their families contact us, mostly they just want to be heard and to tell someone their story,” says Hansen-Gardiner, adding that client reps work with care teams to facilitate a resolution. “The way our process works is that managers or the care team should be given the opportunity to resolve a concern themselves,” explains Herman. “There are concerns out there that we just never hear about because care teams are great at resolving them closest to the point of care or service. And that’s how it should be.”

Herman has found that even if two clients have similar concerns, their individual ideas of resolution might be very different. “Sometimes clients just want to raise awareness and they want the care team to know what their experience was and the impact that it had on them. Other times people are expecting a different outcome, a formal response or apology,” says Herman. “It differs as much as people differ.”

Regardless of the outcome, Herman stresses that the role of a client rep isn’t one of defender or accuser.

“One of the questions I get a lot, from both families and professionals is, ‘Whose side are you on?’” explains Herman. “If we are on any side then we’re on the side of quality improvement and if we can learn anything as a Region from a person’s experience, we are on the side of learning.”

Hansen-Gardiner is driven by her desire to improve the patient experience and her dream of creating a designated client representative position for Aboriginal people.

As an Aboriginal woman who is fluent in Cree, Hansen-Gardiner would like to focus her work on improving health outcomes for Aboriginal people. “I had a client who had driven into Saskatoon from a reserve three hours away and was shocked that I could speak Cree to him. His face lit up,” she says. “With a designated position for Aboriginal intake, we can continue to foster that understanding and compassion.”

Neither Herman nor Hansen-Gardiner view their positions as the outcome of failures within the system.

“Often there are simply misunderstandings or miscommunication or clients feel overwhelmed and just want some extra support,” says Hansen-Gardiner. “The opportunity for improvement is always there.”

“When we get a call it just means that we didn’t meet someone’s expectations and hopefully we can do better next time,” says Herman, who believes the key to their job is to remain compassionate and empathetic. “Even on a day that is extremely demanding and exhausting, this job is infinitely interesting because you hear people’s stories about what happened with their care and their perspective and its just so varied.”