People A word with... Marj and Ken Freeman
Wed 04, Jul 2018
Ken and Marj Freeman are a much valued, loved and respected couple from Western Sydney who have driven and influenced health consumer involvement in the Western Sydney Local Health District. Say hello to this iconic couple!
Ken and Marj, how did you get involved in health consumer representation?
Ken and Marj: Six years ago, after reading an article in a local paper regarding the upgrading of Blacktown Hospital, we attended a forum with staff and local community residents to discuss the hospital redevelopment and ways to improve the health system. This was a lively meeting and we left our contact details with the organisers. Shortly afterward, we were approached by a staff member who wanted to get the consumer’s voice heard in clinical committee meetings.
This initiative developed into the establishment of the Western Sydney Local Health District Consumer Representative Council under the guidance of Dr Coralie Wales. We really enjoyed our involvement, and undertook training both with Coralie and through Health Consumers NSW. With our status as 'contingent workers' we are also able to access a selection of online training courses.
And why? What was the trigger point for you to think: Yes, I want to change the health system, I want to do this?
Marj: As a 3-time breast cancer survivor, I developed a really positive relationship with a wonderful professor, who listened carefully to what I said and was willing to discuss my treatment options openly. Other doctors throughout my journey seemed to be doing what they thought was best, without listening to my opinions. After my treatment, I wanted to help others to live a healthier life by sharing my experience. So after training with the Cancer Council NSW, Ken and I became community guest speakers throughout Greater Western Sydney to help people reduce their cancer risk.
"I wanted to help others to live a healtier life..."
Ken: I enjoyed the years I spent for the Cancer Council as a community speaker, taking messages to, and educating, the community on ways to reduce cancer risk. When I became involved in health system representation, I saw an opportunity to advocate for the establishment of non-clinical speakers taking healthy lifestyle messages to the wider community.
What is the highlight of your health consumer representative ‘career’ so far?
Marj: I was involved in the development of the 'Seven Habits of Highly Engaged Committees' and I'm sharing this program through talks and forums. It was exciting to be part of a team presenting the program at the 2018 Patient Symposium at the Sydney Hilton in April.
Ken: I am excited by the steady growth of numbers in the Consumer Representative Council - particularly in the development of a 'mentor' system. This is where experienced representatives invite newer members into their committees to gain experience before moving on to independent roles.
Of the things you have helped change, what are you most proud of?
Marj: Through my experience on committees, I can see that the patient's voice is very much valued and listened to, which was really not the case four years ago. In the Blacktown Hospital redevelopment, I am proud that my voice was heard with regard to bright colours in the decor, and pictures throughout the corridors.
"I can see that the patient's voice is very much valued and listened to..."
Ken: I have advocated for the development of a team of non-clinical community speakers, and this is almost ready for 'lift-off', with a presentation addressing the major issue of Type 2 diabetes in Western Sydney, and a small team of speakers ready to go.
What are the three main tips you can give consumer representatives to be successful in their representation and advocacy endeavours?
Ken and Marj:
- Be willing to listen and accept other points of view and use empathy to consider how others may be feeling.
- Share your experiences with other consumer representatives and learn from each other.
- Keep learning through online courses and attending forums (the health system changes all the time).
Is there something not a lot of people know about you, that you think really helped in your advocacy work?
Marj: I was a secondary school teacher for 15 years (after attending Sydney University in my mid-40’s). I have always been a good communicator but I am sure my teaching experience helped to enhance these skills.
"This gives me a valuable 'outsider's perspective'..."
Ken: In my former life (pre-retirement) I was a corporate accountant and finance/administration manager. I gained considerable experience in the design and implementation of IT and administration systems, and I am sure this gives me a valuable 'outsider’s' perspective in discussions around the redesign of operating systems in Health.
Thanks for the talk, Ken and Marj! And all the best with your future consumer representation work!
Further reading: How to become a health consumer representative in NSW.
Picture 1: Marj and Ken Freeman, volunteering
Picture 2: (from l - r) The Environmental Program officer of Blacktown City Council, former Blacktown mayor Leo Kelly (dec.) and Ken and Marj in their 'graduation gear' after working with a bunch of neighbours to make their street a 'Sustainability Street' after a three-month training program learning about environmental issues and initiatives.