“Life gets flipped upside down. Sometimes people just need guidance.”

Ann Millar knows first-hand what it feels like to have your life flipped upside down. Thirty years ago, her mother was given a life-altering diagnosis. In the difficult weeks ahead, one of the big hurdles was navigating the health care system. 

“The system is complex,” she said. “The language is complex. The culture is unfamiliar. For those who work in it, it makes total sense, but for patients with a new diagnosis, it’s a foreign land.” 

As Health PEI’s Stroke Navigator, Millar helps patients and families affected by stroke to navigate the “foreign land” of the health care system.

“I typically connect with stroke patients after discharge from hospital. I’m there to support their transition from hospital to home and generally be a resource for them if they don’t know where to turn. Sometimes I simply provide information, make recommendations of who to speak with, or possibly email a list of resources. Or it could be more involved, especially if there is some sort of barrier to care.”

     – Ann Millar, Stroke Navigator

Ann Millar, Stroke Navigator
Image caption: 
Ann Millar
Some of these barriers go beyond stroke care. “There could be housing or financial issues,” said Millar. “Maybe the patient was struggling prior to their stroke, and the stroke has made their situation more difficult. If there’s a literacy barrier, my job may be helping people to understand information they’ve been given or fill out forms. Every day is different. Every phone call is different.”

Millar worked with the Canadian Cancer Society in BC and PEI for more than a decade with a background in community-based support when the opportunity arose to be PEI’s first Stroke Navigator.

“It was a super exciting opportunity,” she said. “I have a passion for working with patients and families and ensuring their voices are heard. We are more resilient than we think and can find our way through challenges together.“

“We’ve been trying to build a community of practice now that Health PEI has a number of patient navigators,” said Millar. “Our roles have grown from the ground up, and we’re learning a lot from each other. A lot of barriers patients encounter and resources they require are similar, regardless of the health condition.”

“Post-stroke depression is fairly common,” she said. “There are lots of supports available. Health PEI has worked to build capacity for screening and supporting mental health. A good portion of my job is to lend emotional support and to provide a space for people to express what they need to express. I sometimes feel like a container for concerns they don’t feel they can say to their family without feeling guilty for having emotions.”

Another great part of Millar’s job, she said, is the team around her. “Working with my colleagues is incredible,” she said. “I’ve never worked with people whose care is so influenced by individual patient motivations and values. I’m thinking specifically of the therapists in stroke rehab who know how to listen and tap into what exactly needs to be done to build individualized therapy programs that help patients to recover and adapt. It blows my mind every time. They’re amazing.”

Millar is also inspired by the clients she has worked with. “I had an email recently from someone who wanted to let me know she and her husband were at the beach taking a walk,” remembered Millar. “The fact she thought to tell me that touched me. At one point, she didn’t think that walk would be possible, and there they were. Many of our former clients have come back to work as patient and family partners or volunteers because they want to give back. That’s a wonderful feeling.”

Health PEI’s Stroke Navigator can help stroke patients at all steps along their journey, whether it’s immediately after leaving the hospital, or even years later as they live life post-stroke. To speak with the navigator, call 1-844-871-0634 or email strokenavigator@ihis.org.

Health PEI has a number of patient navigators to help guide you through the system. Learn more about the Patient Navigator, the Cancer Patient Navigator, and the Mental Health and Addictions Navigator.

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Published date: 
July 19, 2022
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