CEO blog: Not the Blog Post I Planned to Write this Month

Protester march peacefully in Toronto with sign "Not Another Black Life"
Protester march peacefully in Toronto with sign “Not Another Black Life” Source: Sudbury Star

This weekend, practically all my family talked about was the death of George Floyd, the response of the criminal justice system to the acts of the police officers involved, the protests all across the United States and here in Toronto, the law enforcement response to those protests, the political response, and the political failure to respond. And I shared the true pride I felt as a Torontonian at the approach to protest with a careful eye on public health shown by the #notanotherblacklife organizers of Saturday’s protest complete with physical distancing info-graphics and masking requirements.

We alternated between being glued to the news, and turning away, unable to watch any more. We debated. Voices were raised. Articles were read and new discussions ensued. Posts on social media were shared on our accounts and amongst ourselves. And it continued into Monday morning – the first thing we started talking about even before morning coffee had kicked in.

Let me tell you about my family. In the dictionary under “privilege” there is a picture of us. White. Highly educated. High incomes. Two out of three kids in university that we can afford to pay for. Own our house. Live in a fancy neighbourhood (yes one of those that is the lightest of pink on the City of Toronto COVID-19 map). Drive nice cars. Healthy. I could go on but I don’t need to – you undoubtedly get the picture.

This wasn’t the blog post I expected to be writing on June 1, 2020. It’s Pride Month so I might have been writing about LGBTQ2SI diversity and inclusion. It’s National Accessibility Awareness Week so I might have been writing about accessibility and disability inclusion. It’s a global pandemic so I might actually have expected to be writing (again) about something related to COVID-19.

But instead I am writing about racism and violence and police-involved deaths of Black and Indigenous men and women. If we have over-used the word “unprecedented” in the wake of the pandemic, anti-Black violence is sadly, infuriatingly, with shameful precedent.

I’m no expert on anti-racism and anti-oppression. For white people like me, using our voices to amplify Black voices, using our power for anti-racist activities, reaching out to check-in on our Black family, friends and employees, enhancing the employee resources we have to explicitly address the mental health and wellness consequences of racism and the trauma of witnessing racist violence, using our leadership to make our organizations stronger voices for equity and anti-oppression, and in the case of our hospital, advancing our work in reducing health inequity and identifying how the social determinants of health – including race – impact the children and families we serve, are just a few things to do.

For myself, something I’m not comfortable doing is copying and pasting tweets about fighting racism, retweeting and tagging more white folks. I say this personally not because I think anyone who has done just that is not truly championing anti-racism or truly intending to be making change. I say it because for me, I fear I run the risk of feeling like I’ve “done” something by posting a tweet and worry that I would let myself off the hook of doing more IRL (as we say on social media). I will still tweet quotes and affirmations. I’ll share resources over social channels. I’ll especially share the posts of Black voices.

So back to my family: talking, thinking, debating and talking some more. This is valuable. This is worthwhile. This is actually even a tiny bit hard. Each one of us energized to expect more of ourselves and each other to do something, even if we don’t all agree on what.

This has been a harder and sadder week than we had expected. You would have thought a pandemic might have been the toughest thing our society would have had to be dealing with. But no, that’s not what the end of May 2020 will be remembered for.

Please share your thoughts, resources, criticisms and advice with me here on this blog or on any of my social channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) or directly by email at

CEO blog: The research must go on

This week we crossed the threshold of the 100th daily email from Ontario’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre. Over what is simultaneously a very long period of time and hardly any time at all, we’ve experienced changes in virtually every part of our lives.

Our governments at all levels have responded swiftly and with compassion to protect people and businesses that have been impacted from the economic fallout of the pandemic. In Ontario these measures included new supports and greater flexibility in existing programs for children with disabilities and these are important.

While the Government of Canada has rolled out financial help to protect many sectors during the pandemic, not everyone has been on the receiving end of this support. It’s time for Canada’s hospital based research institutes to be provided with the financial scaffolding that they need.

One of my favourite Twitter pals, Julie Drury (@SolidFooting), tweeted a quote from Michelle Obama recently: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”

In the early days of this pandemic (yes, already with the 20-20 hindsight) many decisions did appear to be made based on fear – and rightly so as there is much to fear about the new virus. One of those decisions was to shut down virtually all non-COVID-19 research and research funding.

Before the pandemic, there was no shortage of life-enhancing research happening in every corner of the globe, including at Holland Bloorview’s very own Bloorview Research Institute (BRI). The BRI is a world leader in childhood disability research and in 2018 we began an exciting new journey, launching the biggest expansion effort in the BRI history to scale up so we can impact more children and families around the world.

But the BRI, like all hospital-based institutes, relies on external sources of revenue including grants from government-funded research councils, foundations, donors and industry to sustain operations, employ its research staff and fund its trainees – the next generation of researchers. Such institutes are excluded from provincial health-care budgets and do not receive government funding in the same manner as publicly-funded universities. With funding sources now cut for an unknown length of time, and no end in sight to the state-of-crisis reality we find ourselves in, there is a huge risk to the research community across the country, which could have lasting and devastating impacts on the entire field of health research.

Of course I’m biased, but as I said at a virtual meeting with BRI staff this week, I’m particularly concerned about the impact on the field of childhood disability research which is a small and relatively young field. There is so much yet to learn. There are so many children and youth who do not have the access to research they need that will support the quality of life to which they are entitled. Without the research that happens at the BRI, those life-changing research efforts could be set back by a generation.

Of course, given the impact of COVID-19, the focus on research about this novel coronavirus – treatments and interventions, the vaccine which is our hope for going back to something like a new normal –is much needed. But as we all know, life goes on despite the pandemic (albeit disrupted). Babies continue to be born, accidents still happen that require people to visit the emergency department and children living with disabilities continue to face challenges living their day-to-day. Health research, outside of COVID-19, remains critically important and financial support is needed now more than ever to make sure our researchers can continue to work toward providing the best and brightest futures for children and youth and their families.

Despite the uncertainties in the research community I am thrilled that, with so many summer internships on hold or cancelled, we decided to move forward with our Ward Summer Student Research Program, hosted virtually this year. This program receives thousands of applicants each year and welcomes a small number of highly deserving undergraduate students to have the opportunity to work alongside some of Canada’s top disability researchers. Lunch and Learns and team building activities that expose young and ambitious scientists to the unique and specialized field of childhood disability research helps build the next generation of researchers.

There are 400,000 Canadian children living with disabilities and the BRI is focused on improving the quality of life for each one of them as well as their counterparts around the globe and generations of children to come. With our unique lens, with family leaders as partners in research, we fear that lost research funding today resulting from the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 will mean lasting and unforeseeable consequences.  We know that government has heard this call and is weighing it with many other compelling and urgent priorities. Everything we do at Holland Bloorview is based on hope and possibility. We are waiting and watching for the help we need now because research can’t wait.




CEO blog: Navigating through COVID-19

Masking_Facebook 1200x630

It’s hard to believe it was just a month ago that I wrote about women in leadership, honouring International Women’s Day. The world is so drastically different today from the world I wrote that post in… and you don’t need me to remind you of that.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conference on March 11, our world, much like everyone else’s changed quickly. As a hospital, we had to respond quickly to protect our staff, clients and families.  In the face of adversity, we’ve been “working at the speed of COVID-19,” as I’ve started to call it.

Within days, we set up screening for everyone coming into our hospital, protocols around use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and implemented restrictions to the number of parents or caregivers who could accompany our clients – an enormous decision with huge impacts on our clients, families and staff. It bears stating: for children, a parent is not a visitor. And for staff, parents and caregivers are key members of the care team.

Some changes were bigger and took longer to implement. For example, as we re-calibrated services to support our inpatient units, we needed to determine who from the rest of our team could be redeployed to ensure the essential needs of the children in our care are met. The planning, coordination and training to re-deploy team members would normally require months of work, and we succeeded (maybe imperfectly, but we’re getting there) in a few short weeks. At the same time, we needed to ramp up virtual care at warp speed so not to abandon children and families who are reliant on our ambulatory services. This is perhaps the only “upside” of COVID-19—watching innovation proceed at unprecedented pace and with exceptional enthusiasm from our team.   Many of these decisions were difficult and our first go at them wasn’t always right, nor were we as fast as we wished we could be. However, the mantra of the day is not to let perfect be the enemy of the good (and sometimes to ask forgiveness rather than permission).

As a client- and family-centered organization, we knew that these changes were going to lead to disappointments and challenges for those in our care; children and families who surely didn’t need things to get even harder. As difficult as these decisions were, ultimately, they were the right thing to do to keep our community safe until we get to the other side of this pandemic.

Through all of this, my Holland Bloorview colleagues have been a dream team.  At all levels of the organization, our people are pulling together, supporting each other, working tremendously hard, pitching in and putting care, safety and quality first. Everyone has so much heart and brings so much purpose to everything they do. The children we serve are the beneficiaries. I am getting messages from and having conversations daily with families who are grateful for services they continue to receive either virtually or in person. Holland Bloorview is continuing to do what it does best albeit differently in so many ways.

We have been very fortunate to continue to be able to rely on our family leaders to give us excellent advice and insight to improve our decisions. Whether through virtual family leaders meeting with dozens of participants, or tapping into our “just in time” family advisors who are turning around critical decisions in hours, we are able to keep deeply valued relationships and critical knowledge even now.

Internally, we have launched the COVID-19 No Boundaries Fund calling on any staff with a bright idea that promotes the health, wellness and support of our clients, families and staff that have been impacted by the pandemic. Applicants are eligible for up-to $1000 of funding and applications are being reviewed weekly to get them off the ground rapidly. Thank you to our donors for making this possible.

If you follow-us on social media, you may have also seen that under the leadership of our amazing Foundation, the Family Support Fund is being doubled; a fund that provides direct financial support to families in critical need. During this pandemic, many of our clients are under strict isolation and their parents are too – sacrificing paid work for an unknown period of time when their financial resources are already strained. Many community sources of funding have been paused leading to a level of strain on families we have never seen before and which we knew we needed to help address. Increasing our Family Support Fund means that more families will be able to access the funds so they can make ends meet. Our supporters were quick to pitch in and we’re now more than halfway to our $550,000 goal. We continue to accept to donations and any amount, big or small, will go a long way to supporting our families. Donations up to $150,000 are generously being matched by three anonymous donors.

As an academic health science centre our research institute, researchers, research staff, and trainees as well as our teaching and learning institute and students are also significantly impacted by COVID-19. We worry about the long-term impact on childhood disability research at a virtual standstill of any non-COVID-19 research and research funding competitions that have been paused. The team that supports our students is working closely with colleagues at the University of Toronto and other post-secondary institutions to try to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on student learning opportunities, academic progression and future career success. In both research and teaching and learning we have to keep our eyes on the future despite the overwhelming concerns that present needs create.

Recently, Deputy Minister and Minister of Health Christine Elliott was on the record saying “there is no playbook for this;” and she’s right. Though all hospitals are required to have a pandemic plan (and we do!), even past experience could not have fully prepared us for the challenge we are facing today. We were fortunate that Minister Elliott and Premier Ford were able to join our virtual Town Hall to reassure and thank our staff.

Despite it all, I have never been more proud to wear my green Holland Bloorview lanyard and be a part of this incredibly passionate, dedicated and resilient team. Every day, they have stepped up in big and small ways to ensure the values of our organization live strong in these stressful times and continuing to provide exceptional essential care and services to our clients and families. They also are lifting each other up every day. Though we do not know when we will be at the other side of this, I do know that we will all have so much to be proud of and we will all be standing a little taller together.




CEO blog: International Women’s Day 2020 – Power and Collective Individualism #EachforEqual

Canada’s 100 most Powerful Women 2019 (photo credit: Connie Tsang Photography)

In 2019, I was honoured to be named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women for the second year in a row by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). I was thrilled to be acknowledged for my accomplishments and to be included among so many extraordinary women. But I didn’t know what to make of the idea of the “most powerful.” That word “power”…

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “power” includes, “the right to govern or rule … possession of ability to wield force, authority, or influence.” Similarly, the Cambridge English dictionary includes the “ability to control people and events.” Again turning to Merriam-Webster, antonyms for “power” include “helpless, weakness, impotence.”

The implications are consistent with my own feelings about the word – wielding power or force over others, which has never resonated with me. Nor does the idea of a zero sum game – for someone to be powerful someone else would have to be weak. Like many women, my experience of power has included feeling it wielded against me: when someone would speak over me at a meeting, when something I had said was ignored until an older man said virtually the same thing, when my drive to make change was undermined by a senior woman whose own authority might have been threatened…  It’s no wonder that being named “most powerful” felt like a mixed blessing.

However, the beauty of language is that it evolves and we can reclaim it with our own meaning. I’ve decided to embrace the idea of being powerful.

The theme for the International Women’s Day 2020 campaign is Each for Equal and today, I’m challenging each of you to exercise your power in line with what the campaign is really about: collective individualism.   On their website it reads:

“We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.” (

What does this mean to me? It means that I’m committed to use my knowledge, abilities and efforts to level the playing field of opportunities for other people. Here’s what I’m committed to doing with my power:

  1. I will use my power to champion accessibility, equity, diversity and inclusion;
  2. I will use my power to make change in the world by taking actions in my everyday life; and
  3. I will use my power to make visible people whom others don’t notice or underestimate.

So for me #EachforEqual means: I will mentor. I will advocate for girls and women in STEM. I will create visibility for people with disabilities through Holland Bloorview’s  #DearEverybody campaign and agreement. I will tirelessly work to create psychologically safety. I will make choices that reduce harm to the planet. I will be an ally.

It’s 2020! International Women’s Day is around the corner. What will #EachforEqual mean for you?



CEO blog: Boost your winter with Capes for Kids!


February has got to be one of the most “blah” months of the year. Luckily it’s a short one; even in a leap year like this one we’ve only got to suffer through 29 days. I’m always looking for ways to brighten up the second month of the year and have something fun to look forward to in the cold months ahead.

Since 2017, one of the things that has brightened up my February and made March a blast is Capes for Kids, a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign that supports Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (Holland Bloorview).

If you are reading my blog, you likely know about Holland Bloorview, but here is a reminder: we are Canada’s leading pediatric rehabilitation hospital that helps kids with disabilities, medical complexity and chronic conditions reach their full potential. Through medical interventions, therapy, art, music, life skills, programs for readiness for adult life and last, but very far from least,  research, kids unlock their power as friends, students, artists, musicians, athletes, teachers and leaders and create their most meaningful and healthy futures.

Capes for Kids is the easiest and most fun way that you can help us, help them.

What do you need to do? Register, fundraise and wear a cape from March 2-8.  It’s that simple! You decide where to wear your cape – to work or school, to a big meeting, to the dentist, to the grocery store, on a run, or even on a Saturday night out.

Who are you helping?

Young boy in wheelchair posing with red cape.Your support funds groundbreaking research, programs, and services at Holland Bloorview that transforms the lives of kids and their families.

We have more than 8,300 kids and youth that come through our doors each year as inpatients and outpatients, with a broad range of diagnoses and functional needs, including young people with autism, concussion and other acquired brain injuries, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, amputation, spina bifida, arthritis, cleft-lip and palate, epilepsy and other physical and developmental conditions. Our clients include tiny infants coming right from the neonatal intensive care unit who aren’t ready to go home yet to 18 year olds preparing for the next phase of their lives as adults.

As Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital and complex continuing care teaching hospital, Holland Bloorview is a global leader in care, education and research. We also train over 500 students each year.

How am I helping?

There are two great things about Capes for Kids. First of all (not to put a fine point on it) – we need funds raised. Without the support of donors through community efforts like Capes for Kids, we would not be able to support families in dire financial need through our Family Support Fund. Nor would we be able to deliver art and music therapy programs. We would not be able to offer teens a first time away from their parents building skills for adulthood through The Independence Program. We are determined to give every child with a disability access to cutting edge research and interventions that research will make possible. And that takes cash too.

But there is a second great thing you do when you put on a cape from March 2-8. Picture yourself in a shiny red cape at a Leafs game. I don’t need to imagine it because I’ve done it. You can guess what happens. People ask questions (even polite Torontonians) and that brings opportunity to raise awareness. To tell people what you know about kids with disabilities or, just as meaningful, tell people you are just yourself learning and they should too (and also  sponsor you on your Capes for Kids web page).

It’s so easy

Go to to sign up as an individual or form a team. Make a cape or get a spectacular red Holland Bloorview branded cape once you’ve raised $100. And get as creative as you want about how to fundraise! (suggestions are available on the website)

With Capes for Kids, you know you are doing something important and impactful and bring some much needed fun and colour to get you through those “blah” winter months.




New Year, New Decade: Hello 2020!

As we clamber out of the holiday season and into the new decade (or is this the last year of the old decade..? let’s not go there!), I’m also heading into my 6th year as CEO of Holland Bloorview (#WorkAnniversary), which is an opportune time to reflect on the great things we are doing and what we need to be paying attention to going forward.

To kick off the year, here are my top 5 reflections and priorities for 2020 and beyond:

  1. A great employer for a great team

Holland Bloorview is doing a lot right. As a place to work we’ve been recognized for the 10th consecutive year as one of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers (2020). We’ve also been recognized as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures (2019) for the third cycle in a row by Waterstone.   These awards say a lot about who we are as an organization and what we’re doing right.

  1. That great team deserves even more

They are passionate and committed to their work but our staff feels the strain of the complexity of the children that they care for and the needs of their families. More children, more complex conditions and a stretched health system are all elements causing increased strain. Our new People Strategy (stay tuned!) will emphasize wellness and how we can thrive together in an environment of joy in work, accessibility, equality, diversity and inclusion. We are also joined with the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine and other Toronto Academic Health Science Network Hospitals to understand the causes of work stress and what we can do together to improve the quality of life of our physicians, nurses, clinicians, learners and scientists.

  1. Making safety always #1

Our team’s passion is focussed on excellence, safety and bringing the best evidence-informed care to practice. In the coming weeks, we will be talking more about how we will be sharply focusing our strategy over the next two years. Part of this important work is joining Children’s Hospitals Solutions for Patient Safety and bringing the principles of high reliability that we see in other sectors, like the nuclear and airline industries, to the practice of children’s health care. In joining this North American network we will be in great company with other children’s hospitals across Canada.

  1. We are making our research dream a reality

Two short years ago a research MRI at Holland Bloorview was just a dream. Today it is in the building and our Grow Holland Bloorview Research fundraising campaign is bringing us the community support that we need to make it fully operational. This is a big first step towards becoming the global leader in childhood disability research.

  1. Staying on top of health system transformation in Ontario

As a hospital that serves children from across the province, we care about the whole system and how children and families receive care and the difficulties of that journey. We are working with our system colleagues to help re-imagine the future of a provincial approach to achieve the best health outcomes for all children and my thinking is informed by the wisdom of the Holland Bloorview Family Advisory Committee.

2020… I know it will mean many challenges but also many great things to come!




Putting Social Media Leadership to Good Use: National Child Day 2019

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way social media has influenced my leadership over the past decade. I remember clearly a conversation with a colleague when I was interim Dean of Ryerson University’s Chang School. I said something along the lines of “Why would anyone go on Twitter? Who would want their news in 140 character snippets?” (Wonder if you remember this Keith Hampson!).

This week I had a throwback experience on, yes, Twitter, when Paul Nazareth posted tips for executives who struggle with social media and shared an article from almost exactly 5 years ago, the first line of which reads “Like the many students she’s surrounded by, Julia Hanigsberg scans her phone for Twitter updates every few minutes.” What a difference a few years made!

What I said in 2014 about why I started on social media at Ryerson was:

“Social media is about being connected. My philosophy is that I want people to understand the motivations for what I do. It’s hard to build trust unless people know who you are. It shows someone cares and Ryerson’s paying attention. It just fosters dialogue and then all of a sudden, it goes from being a complaint on Twitter to being an email where we’re really talking to each other. I think it changes things.”

It still is about putting people first. Whether they are members of our team, children and families, academic and healthcare colleagues across the country and beyond. It’s about hearing about child and family needs that are unmet, about the volume and complexity of the care and services my team is delivering, about ways to extend impact through research and the translation of new knowledge into care and services.

But it can also be a source of frustration when I see how often children are not at the centre of our social conversations. That’s why later this month Twitter will be one of the ways that I’ll be spreading the word about why we need to make kids a priority.

This year, National Child Day recognizes and celebrates the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. On November 20, we can all make sure to put Canada’s 8 million children at the top of our priority list.

My reason for putting children first is that investing in child health is an investment in the long-term wellness of our entire society. While our healthcare systems are justifiably pre-occupied by the immediate needs that insufficient long-term care beds and emergency rooms crowded with frail senior citizens represent, we must address “hallway healthcare” without it being at the expense of keeping children safe and healthy.

And when children aren’t healthy, we need to invest significantly and patiently in the care, treatment, therapy, technology and research which enables healthy lives and happy futures. And we need to make sure that investment reaches every child regardless of postal code, family income, citizenship status, race or religion.

This National Child Day, use your social media leadership to demonstrate to all Canadians why you think we need to put children first.