2021 Blog Post

Inspiring and Enlightening: My first month as CEO by Dr. Kathryn Nichol

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By VHA
Screenshot of Kathryn's interview with VHA client Tilak

A screenshot from my interview with Tilak, family caregiver, on what he
believes
is critically important for me to know as VHA’s new CEO.

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of learning and if you remember my learning curve from the last post, I think I may well be moving down the curve towards YIKES! But what I can say is that it has been both inspiring and enlightening.

One of the inspiring moments was hearing the final presentation from our Champions of Change fellows – Hana, Chrissy and Safi. VHA’s Champions of Change program is an annual opportunity for personal support workers and nurses to receive paid protected time to learn about quality improvement (QI) methodology and to work on a QI initiative that is important to their clinical practice. This year, this threesome worked together to improve our personal support safe medication practices which is critically important due to the rising medical complexity of home care clients, the increasing responsibilities of personal support workers and the important role that nursing plays in supporting PSWs with medication administration. What was most memorable about their presentation, in addition to the excellent change initiative that they designed and implemented, was their description of how the experience had impacted them. The spoke about pride, courage, the opportunity to be a leader, excitement to learn something new and how much they were looking forward to being involved in more change initiatives. As the pandemic has taken a serious toll on the energy reserves of our front-line staff and service providers, hearing this feedback was both heartening and reassuring, and VHA is particularly lucky to have these Champions of Change on our team.

And I had an enlightening moment speaking with one of our family caregivers. When I say caregivers, I mean unpaid caregivers – those friends and family members who are key members of the care team and are often the reason that our clients can remain safely at home over time. When I asked him what I absolutely need to know as VHA’s new CEO, he responded by saying that the most important thing to him is the stability of his family’s care team – and this includes both the continuity of staff (same nurses are part of the team) and reliability of the service. When one of these things becomes a problem, he doesn’t sleep at night, cannot perform his part of the care and everything is thrown off. What I heard is how critically important it is to focus on service coordination and communication – and to ensure that we find out quickly when things aren’t going well. When we talked about how much change is happening within Ontario’s health system, I asked him what my priorities should be in the first months of the role. Without pausing he said advocacy for wage parity across sectors so that home care agencies can recruit and retain high quality staff and service providers who love what they do. His experience with nursing turnover due to higher paying jobs in other sectors has had a direct impact on the quality of care his family receives and puts a higher burden on him to continuously orient new staff. The pandemic has shone a light on home being a very safe place to receive care so now is the right time to be advocating for a system that recognizes the important contribution of those providing home care. We will do our best!

This past week I had the opportunity to represent VHA at a very special event where Premier Doug Ford celebrated the opening of the East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP) and City of Toronto Thorncliffe Park Community Hub Mass Immunization Clinic. VHA is one of six organizations leading ETHP, the Ontario Health Team dedicated to the East Toronto community. VHA is proud to be participating in fourteen Ontario Health Teams in the regions where we provide service. These teams are being introduced in Ontario to provide a new way of organizing and delivering care that is more connected to patients in their local communities. In the few ETHP meetings I have been part of so far it is obvious this group is action-oriented and making great progress on providing integrated care for this community. I also felt fortunate to be at an in-person event (physically distanced of course!) and speak to people face-to-face for a change.

So… inspired by two personal support workers and a nurse who are courageously leading change to improve client care, enlightened by a particularly thoughtful and generous family caregiver and proud of the organization that I work for and the partners that we are working with – overall it was a great two weeks. I truly hope it was for you too.

Oh and by the way – it was also great as my mother got her first COVID vaccination and now the most vulnerable person in our family is protected. I couldn’t resist sharing this photo I took of her afterwards!

Looking forward to writing you again this time next month…when spring will be in full bloom.

Bitmoji of Kathryn Nichol
VHA's CEO Kathryn Nichol's mom
My mom posing after her COVID-19 vaccine