2021 Blog Post

My first 6 months as CEO: Very proud! A contribution by Dr. Kathryn Nichol

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By VHA
A collage featuring Kathryn Nichol's daughter in the field (left) and a picture of the two of them together (right)

Very proud!

Well with the beginning of September comes the 6-month mark of my role as President and CEO at VHA Home HealthCare. Since my last blog, we have been through Wave 3 of the pandemic which was aptly described as “crushing”, participated in mass vaccination efforts across the province, are supporting recovery planning and preparedness and are actively responding to the impact of Wave 4. Progress on mandatory vaccination policies for health workers has been positive and promising and last week was a very proud week to be in the home care sector! On Friday, together with 22 other home care organizations in Ontario, VHA Home HealthCare announced that we would be making vaccination mandatory for staff and service providers this fall.

I’d like to share a number of reasons why this is incredibly positive for all of us.

  • For our staff, service providers, students and volunteers, research has shown that vaccines prevent serious illness and hospitalization.
  • For our clients and their families, it will further reduce the chance of transmission of infection – particularly for those who are most vulnerable.
  • For the health sector, as this is a powerful message that the home care sector is united in the desire to provide high quality and safe care. And due to the fragile state of our depleted health care workforce, the only way to do this and ensure we can continue to provide safe and reliable home care was to do it together. Acting as a collective minimizes our risk of losing people to other organizations and hopefully minimizes the risk of people leaving the health sector completely. We can’t afford to lose a single health worker from our team.
  • For health consumers and for the public, taking a consistent approach builds public confidence in our health care system and emphasizes – more than ever – that home is the safest place to receive care right now.

I am very proud to be a home care leader right now.

It has been a busy summer. During this time, I had two main goals. Firstly, to provide our team with the space to take some well-deserved time off to rest, relax and rejuvenate and, secondly, to do some strategic planning for the fall and 2022. It was reassuring to see people going to cottages, enjoying camping, and visiting friends and extended family. My family travelled out East to see my son in Nova Scotia who hasn’t been able to come home since early 2020. The family reunion was so nice and for those of you who have been east, you will know that summer is the best time to go! My hope is that each member of our team was able to find some time to get away. I was also able to do some important planning for the fall with a focus on thought leadership and strategy/opportunity management. With our learnings from the pandemic and the current health system restructuring with the vision of integrated care for Ontarians, VHA is in a great position to be a strong voice for the future of home care – in particular, how safe it has proven to be, how great home care is the best solution for overcrowded emergency departments and lengthy long term care waitlists, and how home care can be a key connector and partner in integrated care.

We are working on a thought leadership strategy to ensure we are clear on our key messages, important audiences and critical actions that need to be taken to share what we know to truly transform the system. Part of this thought leadership work must be sharing the distressing impact of our system-wide health human resources crisis. In the home care sector, we are experiencing a critical staff shortage and one of the impacts has been back-to-school planning for children with complex medical needs. This group of children have been severely impacted by school closures and many of them are limited in their ability to participate in virtual learning. Sadly, home care providers like VHA are experiencing significant nursing shortages and don’t have capacity to provide the nursing support these children need to return to school in person this fall. This is devastating for children and families and one of our clients, Tonya Martin, contributed to an important piece written by the Toronto Star highlighting this crisis.

Alongside our thought leadership strategy development, we are also ramping up for a two-step approach to strategy and opportunity planning. Our first step will be to critically examine our current strategic plan with a view to our changing health system landscape and identifying our priorities for 2022. Our second step will be strategic – looking 3 years out with a focus on opportunity planning. With change comes great opportunity and we want to be ready to jump when openings emerge that align with our values and our strengths – client-centred and integrated care, growth that contributes to the system, strong and innovative partnerships and reinvesting in our communities.

Over the summer I have had many opportunities to connect with and learn from staff and clients. Our communications team has turned two of these opportunities into short videos – one with Tilak Dutta, father of 4 year old VHA client Cayden Dutta and one with Hermyn Pearce who has been a PSW at VHA for 20 years. Coming soon will be a video of a chat with Amr Elimam, who is a caregiver to his sister, is the Co-Chair of our Client and Carer Advisory Committee and is an incoming member of VHA’s Quality Committee of the Board. Amr will be the first client/caregiver partner to participate on our Board and I am delighted to be welcoming him to this role in September. I know that Amr’s perspective and experience will be of great value to the Board in fulfilling their important governance role at VHA.

I leave you with a picture of one of my greatest informants on what it is really like to provide front line care during a pandemic. My daughter is a Radiation Therapy student working at Princess Margaret Hospital full-time with immunocompromised patients, primarily those battling cancer. Learning from her goes a long way in keeping me grounded. 

My daughter’s most recent story was about a patient who shared her remedy for radiation-related skin burns. After doing some research, my daughter and her fellow radiation therapy students are now recommending this remedy to their patients. Based on that experience, my daughter now routinely asks her patients for ideas on being as healthy as possible during radiation treatment. A great example of the connection and learning that happens at point-of-care.

Kathryn Nichol's daughter working as a Radiation Therapy student at Princess Margaret Hospital during COVID-19

So now, fall is almost upon us, and return-to-school is this week. For those with school-aged children, I wish you all the best. I can’t believe how fast the last six months has gone. I look forward to writing to you again at the 1-year mark and I hope we will all have a safe and healthy fall.

Kathryn