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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

What question would you ask to save a life?

TORONTO, October 25, 2016 - ​It’s a question that recognizes the value of patients’ lives at stake while under CAMH’s care -- and it underscores the theme for Canadian Patient Safety Week starting October 24th.

CAMH caregivers in the Complex Care and Recovery Program shared some answers to that question -- they touched on themes including planning, sharing hopes and the simple human touch of a friendly greeting.

RN Alicia Baxter
Registered Nurse Alicia Baxter: Do you have a plan?

“When we care for patients, we need to ask, listen, talk, and keep the lines of communication open, especially during care transitions where patients can be vulnerable, and essential information needs to be shared and acted upon,” says Ann Pottinger, CAMH’s Director of Quality, Patient Safety and Risk.

“CAMH is working with the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) to spread the message of this year’s theme: Questions Save Lives.”

Ann recalls a time much earlier in her healthcare career when she was about to administer medication to a patient. “I asked him what medications he was expecting and learned that his medication had recently changed. This was before many of the reconciliation, double-check and closed-loop processes we use today. Without that simple question there could have been serious consequences for the patient.”

In many cases, health care providers may never know when a question will save a life. But we do know that the caring, connection and intuition implicit in even a simple question can play a critical role at an important time for a patient.

Ann’s colleague Julia Duzdevic, a Registered Nurse at CAMH who also coordinates the Safewards Program, recalls working a night shift. “One of my clients was acting differently, pacing, agitated, appearing uncomfortable and pre-occupied. We had a great therapeutic relationship.”

“I approached him and asked: ‘Are you’re okay? You don’t seem like yourself tonight?’”

The client paused, then told Julia he wanted to share something. Julia and a colleague went with the client to a treatment room. He confided to them that he was hearing voices telling him to harm himself. He had made some preparations to harm himself as a way to stop the voices and preoccupying thoughts.

“We were able to address the issue and help him right away,” says Julia. “I’m thankful I could pick up the small cues and ask a simple question – if I had not done that I’m concerned about what may have happened to him.”

RN Julia Duzdevic
Registered Nurse Julia Duzdevic: Will you share with me your worries, strengths, hopes and needs?

CAMH is joining CPSI to celebrate the providers, patients and families who make healthcare safer in Canada, Ann says. “It’s an excellent fit with CAMH’s rigorous incident reporting and comprehensive Safe and Well approach.” Recent CAMH initiatives also ensure patient safety through medication administration, suicide risk assessment and many other key factors tracked by CAMH.

“Thank you to all CAMH staff for continuing to make patient safety a priority at CAMH,” says Ann. 


Canadian Patient Safety Week 



Join the conversation!


What question would you ask to save a life? Join #asklistentalk on Twitter October 28th.  You can download the Questions Save Lives frame at, write down your question, snap a photo and share it on Twitter.

RN Kent DelaPenaRegistered Nurse Kent DelaPena: What’s up?

RN Jou Bazoun
Registered Nurse Joy Bazoun: Can I help you?

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