Each year, Family and Children’s Services of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (FACSFLA) bestows their prestigious Family Advocacy Award to an individual, group, or organization that contributes to making the lives of families in our area better.
This year, 124-year old Children’s Aid Society acknowledged the important role mental health advocates play in helping out community, as FACSFLA recognized Anne O’Riordan for “her outstanding work with families facing mental health challenges.”
“Anne O’Riordan is the perfect example of the right person being in the right place at the right time to make a difference for families. Her advocacy on mental health issues has been invaluable to the work we do and to the work of our many partners. She has had a major positive impact on the families we serve and on this community,” said Steve Woodman, Executive Director of Family and Children’s Services.
With a career in healthcare spanning the past 40 years, O’Riordan first worked as an occupational therapist in several mental health settings in Kingston, she explained in her acceptance speech after receiving the award at the FACSFLA offices on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. O’Riordan explained that, in those days of her career, “interprofessional teamwork was the gold standard of care.
“I remember the strength and satisfaction of working with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, child and youth workers, nurses, occupational therapists, teachers, and support staff, including many folks from this agency,” O’Riordan said.
“While involving children and families in case conferences was an expected part of proving care, inviting clients and families to be partners at the table – as experts contributing to their own circle of car and advising the professionals about real life issues – was not done, or even thought of.”
After a number of years in clinical practice, O’Riordan joined the Occupational Therapy program at Queen’s School of Rehabilitation. She taught with Queen’s for 21 years, and it was there that her passion for collaborative teamwork was married with another passion: understanding and respecting the patient-partnership and inclusive teamwork. This arose from developing a course called ‘The Lived Experience of Disability,’ where O’Riordan matched students with community patients who became their mentors in learning about chronic illness, disability, and the healthcare system.
“For 18 years, this course provided me with untold insights into the real-world problems and successes of our healthcare system, along with heartfelt empathy for those who sometimes fell through the proverbial ‘gaps in the system,’” O’Riordan said.
Additionally, O’Riordan was also the Clinical Educator in the Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice at Queen’s University for 10 years, where she coached from healthcare programs to learn about one another’s roles and “to strive to be person-centred, collaborative team players in their future practices. There, through a program called ‘Collaboration in Action,’ O’Riordan matched interprofessional teams of students with patient mentors to learn about authentic healthcare challenges in our community, and to develop personalized care plans with their mentor.
Now, O’Riordan co-chairs the Family Engagement Work Group at the Moving on Mental Health Task Force – an alliance of more than 30 agencies, school boards, and other organizations that share the responsibility for children and youth mental health services within Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington. Her colleagues and those who nominated her for the Family Advocacy Award credit her with being “a tireless advocate who has sought to provide a for families with service providers, especially in breaking down barriers that often prevent children with mental health issued from getting the help they need,” FACSFLA said.
“The only way our community will be able to address the mental health issues we have is if we all work together. Anne O’Riordan shows what one person can do to make a difference. She is an example for all of us to follow,” said Woodman.
O’Riordan echoed that sentiment in her address after receiving the award.
“I know the value and impact of individual stories on professionals, especially new healthcare providers, as they can evoke emotions that stimulate the desire to do better,” O’Riordan expressed.
“I we all said to ourselves ‘That could be me… that could be my child… my mother… my friend…,’ we would all strive to do better – to offer the our best selves and our best care.”
With files from Cris Vilela.