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Daily Dose — Local Entrepreneur Support Patients to Navigate Health Care System

Ari Lord
By Ari Lord
February 1st, 2022

Health care advocacy is a new but swiftly growing field in Canada, and Nelson’s Paige Lennox is at the forefront.

Lennox’s former work as a nurse in acute critical care, addictions, and end-of-life care meant advocating for patients every day.

“I was always drawn to advocating for my patients,” says Lennox.

“I want to help people with their health care situations because they are in crisis. It’s scary when you are sick, when you get a new diagnosis, when you don’t have a diagnosis. When a loved one is going through something, we support families and people to navigate and find their way around the system.”

Heradvocacy work is gaining traction. In December, she was interviewed by the Globe & Mail, and is in the latest issue of Chatelaine. This recent attention is a new experience for Lennox.

“It’s really exciting. All I could do is just be myself and tell my story, and when I do that and don’t try to do anything else, it comes easily. I’m enjoying having opportunities to spread the word.”

A life-changing moment illuminated for Lennox just how much patient advocacy is needed.

“I was a caregiver for my mom when she was dying. I’m a nurse, and I know what questions to ask, and it was still a bit of a struggle. So, I started thinking, what do people do who don’t have a nurse in the family or somebody who can ask questions and advocate for them?”

She started looking for advocacy job opportunities but didn’t come across any.

“It’s a brand-new niche in Canada. It’s really common in the states,” says Lennox.

She talked to some entrepreneur friends over coffee and her friends offered to support her if she started her own business. And so, CHAI was born.

“It was a huge learning curve, at the age of 47, (to be a) nurse turned entrepreneur,” she laughs. “My initial intentions were just to help people in the West Kootenays and our little rural communities. We do kind of fall through the cracks. I started getting calls from across Canada through word of mouth and working with people and (through) our website. So, I started doing remote work with people all over the country.”

From there, the company took off.

“I just started hiring people. We now have 14 advocates across Canada and it just keeps growing,” says Lennox.

CHAI is a private enterprise, but Lennox is constantly expanding her business so her services can reach more patients.

“It is a for-fee service because we had to start somewhere. But we’re now covered by two insurance companies; we have a contract with a First Nation band and with Veteran Affairs. I’m hoping to expand so more people can access us. I don’t just want people with money to access our support.”

Lennox is doing less direct advocacy now that CHAI is growing.

“I’m not taking new clients myself. I don’t have time, but I still have ten or so clients locally, families with which I work because I build a rapport and don’t want to give that up, that’s too valuable; you build that trust.”

The most important thing a patient advocate does is facilitate communication, says Lennox.

“We help with communication gaps, whether that’s between families and their doctors, or between family doctors and specialists, we facilitate communication.”

Lennox offers advice to people navigating the medical system.

“Bring someone else to your appointments. Write all your questions down. Keep a journal of what’s been going on to give your doctor the best chance and best picture of what’s going on. They only see you for 15 minutes, so go prepared. If you’re being sent for a certain test like a cat scan, follow up because sometimes paperwork goes missing.”

Now more than ever, patients need support to access the medical system, Lennox explains.

“Our system is really overstretched and overworked, and that’s just getting worse. The pandemic has put more of a strain on things. Now more than ever, it’s more important to advocate for yourself. It’s a lot easier to slip through the cracks.”

Lennox worked in acute care in Calgary, Edmonton, and Cranbrook, before moving to Nelson five years ago. She chose Nelson rather by accident.

“Some friends of mine, their mom needed a house sitter for a summer. I had already gone casual at my job in Cranbrook as I was looking for advocate work. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I housesat for a few months and then decided to get a job at the Nelson hospital and try skiing for the winter, and I haven’t left.”

For Lennox, it’s the lifestyle, the lake, the people and the ski hill that keep her here. She loves hiking with her dog and also plays the Banjo in her spare time.

Lennox has high hopes for her company’s future:

“The ultimate goal would be to have (advocacy) covered under our provincial health systems. Things in health care take a long time to change. The more people who find us and know what we’re doing, we will keep hiring more people. If I create something that will last long after my time, have something that’s incorporated into our health system, that’s what I want. So that means we need to grow.”

Lennox doesn’t miss being a nurse because she is still helping people every day.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I feel like I’ve gained something.”

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