Elizabeth Baron is a builder – of relationships, of teams, and of ways that will make the health care system better for people, their families, caregivers and care teams.

With a background in navigating difficult conversations and patient complaints through previous roles as a frontline clinician and Director of Client Relations and Risk Management at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), she has become a compassionate and visionary champion of elevating the patient experience in health care.

Now, as regional director for VCH’s Experience in Care program – a program she pioneered – Liz has built a comprehensive strategy for improving care experiences that centres on human connections and fostering a culture where everyone feels valued and empowered to make a positive impact.

“Liz has built the Experience in Care team from the ground up, rooting it in a strong evidence base of person-centred care, human experience and just culture,” says Serena Bertoli-Haley, interim manager for Experience in Care. “From celebrating human connections in care, to building an organizational support system for approaching difficult conversations with empathy, to partnering with other programs to learn from and act on care experiences, Liz leads by example to bring about culture change with determination, care and courage.”

Historically, negative patient care experiences have typically been addressed through a legislated complaints process. It has left patients feeling not heard, understood or respected by care teams, and care teams ill equipped to navigate difficult conversations with patients that might have avoided the poor care experiences in the first place.

At the same time, the patient voice was not often recognized for its value and contribution to creating care processes that would result in positive clinical outcomes and patient safety. At VCH, there was no defined approach to understanding the patient experience, and to what receiving and providing care feels like.

“Focusing almost exclusively on clinical drivers as measures of success, we operated under a siloed approach that did not recognize the value of different ways of knowing and learning, such as storytelling and other qualitative approaches,” Serena says. “What many patients and staff saw and felt was a disconnect between the lived experiences of patients and families, and the experiences of care teams and support staff.”

Using her background in complaint resolution at VCH, Liz advocated for an Experience in Care portfolio that would humanize care by supporting the experience of patients, families, caregivers and staff at VCH. She also championed a new approach to how care concerns were responded to, ensuring a more personal, empathetic, and relational approach.

Liz leaned on the expertise of others to bring a more holistic approach to learning from and improving experiences of care, such as completing the Beryl Institute’s training as a Patient Experience Professional. She became one of the first SAEGIS accredited master trainers and brought its Communicating Unexpected Outcomes training to VCH, to shift the culture to one that considers and values the importance of empathy and human connection in care.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she advocated for the rapid deployment of a Family and Visitor Support line for loved ones of those in long-term care, and creation of a Patient and Family Experience Council to help inform VCH’s response approach. And, she built and leveraged strategic partnerships throughout VCH, to arrive at an Experience in Care framework that is collaborative and ensures an organizational accountability with key partnerships.

One such early partnership was forged with Indigenous Health, so that every Experience in Care initiative can be built on a foundation of cultural safety and humility. Other key partners were Quality & Patient Safety, Risk Management, the Patient Care Quality Office, Community Engagement and its network of patient advisors, the Community Engagement Advisory Network, Decision Support and Data Analytics. A partnership with Clinical Education has resulted in embedding Experience in Care basics in new staff, provider and volunteer orientation. Through a relationship with Communications, campaigns such as Patient Experience Week in April, What Matters to You Day in May, and Hello My Name Is day in July are prioritized.

Serena and her colleagues, directors Lara Gurney and Alan Caplan, say Liz is a “genuinely kind spirit” as well as a coach, mentor and important resource. She promotes a VCH organizational culture that is more inclusive, safe, and compassionate for patients and staff.

“Liz Baron is a person of integrity, who truly lives the values she brings to our team,” Serena says. “Her tireless advocacy for the growth of the Experience in Care program over the past three years with the true intentions of improving the experience for patients, families, caregivers and staff has been beyond remarkable.”