North West LHIN’s health system planning and funding functions are now part of Ontario Health, a government agency responsible for ensuring Ontarians continue to receive high-quality health care services where and when they need them.


North West Patient and Family Advisory Committee

Since its inception, we have appreciated the importance of engaging with patients, families and caregivers, and ensuring their voices are heard. Now more than ever, we are committed to including the voices of patients in their health care.

To further strengthen the voice of patients, families and caregivers, we are pleased to announce its new Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC). The North West PFAC was created to provide advice on local health issues and programs from the patient’s perspective.

Individuals from across the region have been invited to join the committee as inaugural members. These individuals are or have been patients or caregivers of patients in the North West, and reflect the diversity of the people and communities.

The role of a PFAC member is to share his or her unique stories, experiences, opinions and perspectives in order to strengthen engagement of patients, caregivers and the public in important local health planning decisions and policies. Feedback from patients and their families will lead to meaningful positive changes in our region’s health care.

Through the Committee’s work, community members will have the ability not just to know about the decisions that affect them, but to be involved in the development of the very programs, services and initiatives that affect them as well. 


Meet the Committee Members

George Saarinen

Thunder Bay, Ontario

George Saarinen is Co-Chair of the North West LHIN’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC). Originally from Geraldton, he grew up just steps from the hospital. He now lives in Thunder Bay where he actively contributes to the well-being of the community. 

George was active in the labor movement and then Options North West’s Personal Support Services. He’s also actively involved in Community Living Thunder Bay. He has served in various community roles as a representative of school boards and trustees, labor unions, political parties, library boards and sports teams.   

“I don’t think I knew what health care was all about until my family was in crisis, after my mother had a fall and ended up in hospital,” recounts Saarinen. “Families go through a fair amount of stress, when all of a sudden, you’re the one making decisions and dealing with new realities.”   

As Co- Chair of the PFAC, George leads the group of members comprised of patients and caregivers from across the Northwest region, and brings their experiences and perspectives to light to advise the North West LHIN on planning priorities. “We’re all in it together, we all have our opportunity to contribute. We’re here to ensure respect for relations across the region.”


Joan Duke

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Joan is Co-Chair of the North West LHIN’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee.  She became a caregiver when two of her close family members developed serious chronic health problems at the same time. Both required extensive use of multiple aspects of the health care system. Her experiences with the system and her stories led her to involvement with the TBRHSC Patient Family Advisory Committee.

“I developed a passion for learning how the health care system worked. I saw the positive impact that patient and family centered care could have on people’s health experiences. When the North West LHIN developed their plans for Patient Family Advisory Committee it was a natural progression to volunteer.”

She says it is important that patient’s voices be heard, and that individual stories lead to positive changes that impact the future: “It is an honor for me to consider myself to be an advisor to and an ambassador for the health care system and the North West LHIN.”


Alex Geesic

Wunnummin Lake, Ontario

Alex Geesic has been escorting fellow First Nations people on health-related travel and visits for the past 10 years. “I’ve been escorting Elders, young people, anybody that wants help and I am available to travel. I realized I have feelings and emotions that I never had before. I am a caring person and I like to be compassionate to my people or whoever needs my help.” He also does language interpretation for patients. For a period of two years (2015 and 2016) he assisted a 65-year-old elder from Sioux Lookout who had to leave home to go to Sioux Lookout for 18 days of care, without Alex the elder had no assistance and was challenged by the language barrier.

Alex says the elder couldn’t understand the interpreters from Treaty 3 and 5 who spoke different dialects from his own at the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. He volunteered to help, and has been escorting the elder for the last 8 years. “I consider myself an advocate to my people and I’m glad that I was appointed to the North West LHIN, and glad to be with the advisory committee in Thunder Bay. I enjoy being there and meeting interesting people.”


Athena Damianakos

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Athena was a caregiver to both of her parents as they aged and required home care, then hospital and palliative care. She also advocated on their behalf for appropriate services, meanwhile balancing a full-time job and family. She’s also the mother of two, her daughter works in public nursing and her son was born with cerebral palsy, congenital heart problems, is epileptic, has a very poor immune system - he is considered “medically fragile.”

Athena’s challenge was to find appropriate educational, rehabilitation, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, along with the appropriate medical supports: paediatrician, neurologist, and heart specialists for him. He underwent local assessments and he was also assessed at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto, the London Ontario Hospital, and the University Health Network – Toronto General Hospital Cardiac Clinic.

Throughout her son’s journey, Athena gained a wide range of experience. She has a strong understanding of the health system, meetings, advocacy and perseverance. Athena joined PFAC hoping to help shape the system to be more responsive to caregivers and patient needs, and also to share whatever information she might have that may be helpful to others to make their lives easier.



David Glover

Thunder Bay, Ontario


David Glover was retired and living on the shore of Lake Superior when his wife, Jane, was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s six years ago. David became a care partner, knowing what to expect as they had witnessed Jane’s grandmother and father live with Alzheimer’s.  They reached out to the Alzheimer Society of Thunder Bay for support and joined the North West Dementia Working Group. They began to help others with the same diagnosis and help to support their families in this journey.  


David joined the North West LHIN Patient and Family Advisory Committee, using his business and professional experience to make the journey with Alzheimer’s better for all those and their families dealing with this condition.  “The need for support, both to cope with the diagnosis as well as to remain in our homes is critical. Meeting other people who are also living with this condition has helped us immensely, and this is important to alleviate the effects of the diagnosis on our lives,” said Jane.


Dan Pierroz

Fort Frances, Ontario

Born and raised on a dairy farm close to Hamilton, Ontario, Dr. Dan Pierroz has called the North his home for almost 45 years. A practicing Veterinarian, his Fort Frances clinic provides companion and farm animal services to the entire Rainy River District, including outreach clinics for communities from Rainy River to Atikokan.  As a patient, he has received health care, specialized testing, diabetes prevention services and surgical procedures at facilities that span the entire Northwest continuum of care. As a rural veterinarian he understands the reality of referrals to facilities and specialists in larger centers. however, he supports the philosophy of Care Close to Home and believes that patient, family, caregiver and public engagement can have a positive impact on quality, safety and patient experience in our health care system.  Dr. Dan and his wife raised their two children in Fort Frances and he has been very active within the community. He previously served as a Separate School Board Trustee for 14 years including multiple terms as Chair.  He was also heavily involved in the Townshend Theatre Auditorium Project and the Community Sports Field Development in Fort Frances, and currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Designated Area Veterinarians. 


Karen Arola

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Karen and her husband, John, are the parents of two adult children and five grandchildren that reside in Alberta. In the summer of 2009, they returned to Thunder Bay to care for John's mother who still resided in the family home, moving from Fort McMurray and both retired from their careers. As the years progressed, John’s mother gradually needed more support, and in 2014 John started to have difficulty walking and so Karen took over as caregiver for both her mother-in-law and her husband.

After repeated falls and hospital admissions, Karen’s mother-in-law was placed at St. Joseph's Hospital for an assessment. She would require home care and eventual admission to a nursing home. As home care commenced, Karen experienced gaps in care. Around the same time, Karen's husband required both hips to be replaced.

Karen says she is excited to be a member of PFAC with the hope to be able to correct home care issues that exist for family and patients alike: “Caregivers need to know that there is help out there and nobody should have to bear the strain of no support."  


Katherine Smith

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Katherine Smith is married with two adult children and four grandchildren. A retired hospital chaplain, she actively volunteers with Hospice Northwest offering one to one support for clients who are grieving and as a group facilitator. Katherine has an interest in all aspects of our health care system; but holds a special passion for Mental Health Care, Senior Care and the Management of Chronic Illness. She brings with her, her own personal health challenges and those of her son who is a Type 1 diabetic. She was also a caregiver to her mother who lived with Dementia.

Katherine says she is “honored and excited” to be a member of the North West LHIN’s Patient and Family Advisory Council.  She hopes to ensure PFAC will contribute to policy and system-wide decisions that will improve care for seniors and for those living with mental illness and/or addictions. She identifies two goals: To increase staffing levels in nursing homes, and to develop a “quiet area” in the Emergency Department for patients with mental health issues or dementia. Katherine says she enjoys working with those who share the mutual goal of improving all aspects of our health care system.


Ken MacDonald

Dryden, Ontario

Ken MacDonald and his wife are the parents of five children, ages spanning 33 to 43. They’ve been a blended family for 30 years. They lived in Edmonton until retiring and moving to Dryden eight years ago. Ken was diagnosed with diabetes since 1990. In 2014, he underwent open heart surgery to replace a valve due to a congenital defect.

His own challenges accessing care in the north motivated him to get involved with the Dryden’s PFAC committee and later the North West LHIN’s PFAC. He says he wants to ensure policy and system decisions that are being made in the North West LHIN include the needs of the elderly and those living in remote areas, particularly those who require extensive support, in hospital or at home. He says, “I am a strong supporter of the statement, ‘The patient is the most important member of their health care team’.”


Lesley Read

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Lesley is a retired Clinical Support worker from St. Joseph's Care Group. She served on several committees during the addition to St. Joseph's Care Group and on the Citizen's Advisory Group in Toronto. She was also a patient of the Chronic Pain Clinic through St. Joseph's Care Group: “I feel I strongly understand client care from both sides of the picture.”  

Prior to that, Lesley was part of a committee that opened a food kitchen to serve patients in need of access to the food cupboard in the Current River area of Thunder Bay: “I thoroughly enjoy having the time to contribute to helping others as I do working with the above committees to improve the health care needs in our city. Recently, I have been invited to serve on the engagement committee in Toronto focused on improving health care, specifically for women.”  


Marjorie Zirk

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Marjorie is a nurse from Thunder Bay who lived in Southern Ontario for 12 years before returning to Thunder Bay.  She spent 20 years working in a doctor’s office, 15 years with the City of Thunder Bay at Dawson Court Long-Term Care, and two years as a home nurse for St. Elizabeth Health Care. 

“I have worked with the elderly and have hands-on knowledge of the difficulties and emotional issues they and their families go through as the aging process takes a toll on their health and bodies. I have an older brother and sister who are in assisted living facilities, both of which have had strokes, heart attacks and failing health issues,” she explains.

She has also survived two heart attacks and gone through angiograms and angioplasties, as well as other medical issues that have required health care. Marjorie is active on the Citizen Advisory Committee in Toronto as well as the PFAC with the North West LHIN. “I feel privileged to have a voice as the health care system goes through needed changes and builds on what works to improve patient centered care, having patients, family members, doctors, nurses and medial support staff all working together as a team towards a common goal and outcome.”


Ruth Sisak

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Ruth Sisak is passionate about helping others. Her professional career as a RN started in the early 1990s and transitioned into health planning within various elements of the province of Ontario. She completed her Masters in Nursing (leadership) in 2004 from the University of Toronto. That same year she developed a condition that required multiple spinal surgeries and was medically retired from professional practice around the same time. However, her passion for making a difference in the health field has not diminished. She went on to grow her family, which includes her husband and three children, age 19, 11 and 8. Her children have had many intersections with the medical community here in Northwestern Ontario including protracted stays in the NICU, diagnoses of epilepsy, asthma and multiple trips to the emergency room that comes with having an 11 year old goalie in minor hockey. In addition, along with her siblings, she has been a main care provider for elderly parents who have accessed hospice care, supportive housing and differing aspects of dementia care.  

These life experiences have led her to volunteering as a Patient Family Advisor, first for the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital and now for the North West LHIN. She is excited to be an inaugural member of the Patient and Family Advisory Committee and is very much looking forward to affecting care on a global level for the residents of Northwestern Ontario, particularly for children and families.


Tina Copenance

Kenora, Ontario


Tina is a member from Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining First Nation from the Kenora area. She has worked for the National Defense of Canada working with Inuit, Metis, and Aboriginal people in the regional program. Tina completed her Masters of Social Worker, specializing in Aboriginal studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.   


Her career includes work for various social service organizations and involvement in various boards and committees, including: North West LHIN board, Child Find Canada, Thomas Aquinas High School Parent Council, and many grassroots First Nation committees in Ontario. She is the former president of Four Directions Toastmasters, and former area governor for Toastmasters International Area 22.  


Tina is passionate about health care with a personal focus on diabetes – she lives with type 2 diabetes that she controls with healthy eating and exercise. She aims to continue to model change by controlling her health and diabetes.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of the North West PFAC?

The role of the Committee is to provide advice based on the patient, caregiver and family experience that is meaningful to all people living in the North West region.

What is the role of a Patient and Family Advisory Committee member?

The role of a Patient and Family Committee Advisory Committee member is to share his or her unique stories, experiences, opinions and perspectives in order to strengthen engagement of patients, caregivers and the public in important local health planning decisions and policies.

Who can participate?

We encourage patients and/or their caregivers and/or family members who live within the North West to complete and submit this Expression of Interest for consideration of participation on the Patients and Family Advisory Committee.

Who cannot participate?

Elected representatives, practicing health care professionals, paid employees of health charities, employees of companies in health industries, elected officials, and employees of provincial and federal health ministries and agencies already have a strong voice in making their opinions known to decision makers, these persons are not eligible for membership.

How were Committee members selected?

Members were selected and recruited in such a manner to ensure diversity that is reflective of the North West’s population makeup. Membership also represents patient, family/caregiver experiences across different health care settings, including in hospitals, Long-Term Care Homes, and Home and Community Care settings.

Terms of Reference

Based on its Terms of Reference, the PFAC will both advise and collaborate with the North West, its leaders, HSPs and staff regarding system-level policies, practices, and strategy, planning, and delivery of patient- and family-centred care within the North West region. Members will:

  • Identify and advise on opportunities to incorporate the patient’s perspective in initiatives to better integrate care across the region and across the health care system.  
  • Support effective patient engagement within the North West.
  • Provide advice on recommendations about health care access or service delivery improvements from the patient and/or family caregiver perspective. 
  • Provide input on policies and standards guiding initiatives, particularly regarding patient care and patient engagement. 
  • Recommend strategies and practical ideas for improving patient care, and caregiver recognition and support.  
  • Work in partnership and engage in co-design with our organization, service providers and partners.  
  • Link and collaborate with other patient and family advisory groups within the North West and across the province as appropriate.    

For more information on the establishment of the provincial Patient and Family Advisory Council, please visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website - Public Information.