Enhancing Patient Experience through Volunteering

(L-R) Abbey Hunter and Kim Montanaro contribute to the patient experience through volunteering at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
(L-R) Abbey Hunter and Kim Montanaro contribute to the patient experience through volunteering at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Originally published in the April 2024 edition of the Walleye Magazine

Twenty-five years ago, Kim Montanaro started volunteering as a way to give back to the community and honour family and friends who had gone through a cancer experience.

“A friend was volunteering and suggested I try it,” says Kim, “and I’m still here!”

Formerly coordinated by the Canadian Cancer Society, the volunteers at the Regional Cancer Care Northwest program at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) provide hospitality, friendly visiting, information, and practical support to patients and their families from across Northwestern Ontario. Kim has taken on additional volunteer roles including training and overseeing new volunteers, and serving as a Patient Family Advisor (PFA). A strong advocate, she supports TBRHSC’s cancer-related programs by participating on committees and writing for the Cancer Chronicle Newsletter.

“Each time I volunteer is memorable, as each shift is different because of the people I meet and what I am able to do for them,” Kim shares. “It brings great satisfaction knowing I’ve made a difference (big or small) for someone.”

“Kim’s dedication, insights, and compassion are invaluable to staff, fellow volunteers, and the patients and families she accompanies in their journey,” says Donna Jeanpierre, Manager of Volunteer Services at TBRHSC.  “Each person who volunteers here comes with their own experiences and knowledge. It is their unique backgrounds that enriches the experience for the patients, families and for the volunteers themselves.”

And for every volunteer, there is a unique story as to why they choose to give the gift of their time to the Hospital.

Abbey Hunter is another volunteer, a PFA.

In 2019, following her following her diagnosis of lupus and the tumultuous, year-long journey it took to get there, Abbey wrote a letter to TBRHSC, explaining her story. She was asked to come in to interview to be a PFA.

“Although I was the youngest PFA by at least 20 years, I felt more comfortable than ever,” recounts Abbey.

Abbey sits on various councils including the Telemedicine Council and the Women and Children’s Council. In 2023, she joined the Patient and Family Advisory Council within the Noojmawing Sookatagaing (Healing Working Together) Ontario Health Team for Thunder Bay. As a coordinator for the inaugural “Walk for Lupus Thunder Bay”, $21,000 was raised to train another professional to provide support for those living with rheumatic diseases in the North. In January 2024, Abbey was one of thirteen people from across Ontario to be publicly appointed to the Minister of Health’s Patient Family Advisory Council.

“I hope to continue to advocate for a younger and northern voice at a provincial level,” Abbey explains.

“All of these tables that I have been fortunate to sit at, have stemmed from my role as a PFA at TBRHSC. Throughout my journey, I have learned the importance of speaking up and of the valuable contributions that PFAs make representing the voice of the patient.”

“Volunteers are an essential part of the team at TBRHSC, enhancing programs and services by supporting the Hospital’s philosophy of Patient and Family Centred Care,” says Shannon Schiffer, Manager of Patient and Family Centred Care, Patient Experience, Engagement and Advocacy at TBRHSC. “There are opportunities all across the organization, and through direct or indirect interaction with patients and families, volunteers contribute positively to the patient experience.”

If you are interested in volunteering at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre find more information and the online application at tbrhsc.net/join-our-team/become-volunteer/. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a PFA, you can email TBRHSC.PFCC@tbh.net or call (807) 684-7322.