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Kathryn and family in Bay of Fundy
March 15, 2022
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One Year Blog – What Comes to Mind is…Hiking!

What comes to mind is…..hiking!

At the beginning of March, I hit my one-year anniversary in the role of President and CEO at VHA. As I reflect on how to describe this year, and what it meant, what comes to mind is hiking. Yes – hiking.

If you know me well, this may not be a surprise, as I love sports and I love to be outside. After ice hockey, my favourite activity is hiking, followed closely by paddle boarding and canoeing. I’ve included a picture of my family hiking in Cape Split, Nova Scotia (see above). When thinking about the past year, hiking comes to mind because when you hike, you spend a great deal of time watching your feet and the ground to make sure you don’t trip over roots and rocks. You are constantly reacting to what is coming with the next step and adjusting to stay upright and moving forward. You have to remind yourself regularly to look up and take in the beauty of the sky, the trees and the sun and to make sure you are on the right path.

This past year has been a lot like a challenging hike. In its second year, the pandemic took us down a path full of roots and rocks to negotiate, balance on, step around and sometimes trip over. The draw to focus downward has been intense and, in many cases, necessary. But the need to look up and ensure the path that you are on is the right one has been just as important. As the health system transforms with the goal of more integrated care and as home care models and contracts are updated, focusing on the right priorities is critically important to ensure the organization is always working from a position of strength and is ready to embrace change. Taking the time during your hike to see the sky, the path ahead and adjust as necessary ensures you get home safely, and the workout has made you stronger. Hiking seems like the perfect analogy for this past year.

The hike wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed every minute.

If I were to share three things that I focused on during the “hike” of this past year they would be people, culture and strategy.

People

You can never do it all yourself. This is more profound the broader your span of accountability is, so as the CEO of an organization, you need to be surrounded by smart, committed, collaborative people who have different skills than you. The formula for a high functioning leadership team is constantly changing as the players change, as the context changes and as the consumers change. Spending time to ensure VHA has a strong leadership team, with the necessary supports in place to help them succeed, has been one of my top priorities. In a not-for-profit organization, your volunteer Board of Directors are an essential part of the team and leveraging their skills and strengths has also been a top priority for me. This has been my first experience working with a Board and I have found it to be one of my most important sources of strength and intelligence.

Culture

I always say that working in home care is not for the faint of heart. Our mobile clinical team members work incredibly hard, 24×7, 365 days a year, on their own, through all that Ontario weather can send our way – snow, sleet, hail and intense heat and humidity – to provide high quality and safe care for clients and families. And they have worked every single day of this pandemic. Our office and coordination team also works around the clock, every day of the year managing challenging scheduling, coordination and administrative work that is necessary to keep our clinical team safely in the community. It is not easy work and is not widely recognized, yet home care is the safety net of our publicly funded health care system and is the solution to overcrowded emergency departments and hallway medicine. Home is also where people want to be when they are battling chronic illness, are aging and when they are at the end of their life. To support our team and our clients through the many challenges we have faced this year, I have prioritized transparent communication through as many safe modes as possible. Sharing information quickly and widely on issues that impact us including the COVID-19 pandemic, health system transformation, health human resource shortages, inflation being at a four-decade high, racial injustices and the attack on democracy through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine builds trust and results in positive and collaborative problem solving. It hasn’t been an easy year, but we have the right team, the right focus, and a culture of pride in work and supporting each other to hold us up.

Strategy

Keeping my head above the tree line, my eye on the horizon and seeing what is coming to make sure we are on the right path has been a top focus for me. 2021 was year 2 of our 5-year strategic plan and a critical year to ensure we are successfully able to meet our 2025 strategic objectives. Digital transformation, a shift towards automation, enhanced client communication and navigation systems, and accelerating efforts to integrate care with expanded partnership initiatives are the future, and ensuring our structures and processes position us to fully engage has been my goal. Going forward, our strategies to ensure Ontarians can receive the care they need at home will be through collective and positive advocacy, high quality research, evidence-based practice, powerful and effective partnerships, and purposeful thought leadership. We know that the future will include pandemic recovery matched with fiscal restraint and we are working to be ready for it.

Where will the hike take us next? Let’s keep our footing sound but our eyes on the tree line – together – as we navigate the future of home care in Ontario.

With gratitude and excitement for the path ahead,

Kathryn