Video visits help cure hospital homesickness

Northern Health goes the distance to make patients feel at home


Even though they were in Edmonton, this week Darlene Quqshuun and Warren Rudolf personally introduced friends and family back home in Gjoa Haven to their newborn twin sons, Byron and Bailey.

This special holiday meeting was made possible due to tele-health equipment in Edmonton and Gjoa Haven, and telecommunications technology that uses satellites to send images and sound between the two sites.

The set-up, which is generally reserved for long-distance medical consultations, allowed the couple and their sons in Edmonton and those sitting in Gjoa Haven’s clinic to see and hear each other on television screens.

“It’s a visit,” said Liz Kingan, a nurse and member of the Northern Health Services team in Edmonton.

Edmonton’s Northern Health Services tracks patients from Nunavut when they’re undergoing treatment or have been admitted to one of the city’s seven hospitals. The team also relays updates and discharge plans to health workers back home.

From April 2002 to March 2003, Kingan and her two colleagues — all of whom have experience in northern nursing stations — looked after 133 in-patients and 301 outpatients from Nunavut.

Most of those receiving medical treatment in Edmonton come from the Kitikmeot region, although many infants from other places in Nunavut who need heart surgery are also referred to Edmonton.

Nunavut maintains a boarding home in Edmonton, and the territory’s health travel service alerts Northern Health Services when anyone is due to arrive from Nunavut and will require lodging or hospitalization.

“We do see all the in-patients, and we try to meet all of them and make sure they know what’s available,” Kingan said.

But Kingan said those travelling on company or government health plans for treatment in Edmonton sometimes don’t realize that the health services are also available to them.

Northern Health Services can provide advice, counselling and even help arrange discounts at hotels in Edmonton.

“We can help you navigate the maze,” Kingan said. “Most of us never look at our health coverage until we have to and then you can find out something isn’t covered.”

Visits via video-conferencing are offered after a patient has been in Edmonton for more than three weeks.

Kingan said she usually leaves the patients alone during these meetings.

“It’s very emotional,” she said — and it’s not unusual to see people cry and kiss the television screens.

Each visit costs around $500 — but its positive impact on patients’ health and happiness makes the hour well worth the expense.

“We find people from the North, the first thing they ask is, ‘When can I go home?’ They don’t like it here, they don’t want to be here and they’re homesick and lonely,” she said.

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