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.




CEO blog: It’s Election Time – Let’s Look Out for Kids


We are in the countdown to election day in Canada. As politicians knock on doors, leaders debate and pundits opine, 20% of Canada’s population isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Where is the children’s policy platform? Where are the promises which will make a difference in the lives of Canada’s children and the healthcare they receive?

Don’t get me wrong, the top issues all Canadians care about are also issues that are key to the well-being of children and youth – the climate change crisis and healthcare to name two. But this year, organizations that are committed to the health and wellness of Canada’s children are asking Canadians, and the politicians who hope to lead us, to take the needs of kids seriously.

Many Canadians would be surprised to learn that although Canada ranks as a top 10 country to raise children, we aren’t even in the middle of the pack when it comes to children’s well-being (25th out of 41 OECD countries).

In the Raising Canada report, Children First Canada highlights the top 10 threats to childhood in the country:

  1. Accidents and preventable injuries
  2. Suicide, depression and anxiety
  3. Child abuse
  4. Poverty
  5. Infant Mortality
  6. Obesity and inactivity
  7. Food insecurity
  8. Immunization
  9. Discrimination
  10. Bullying

Almost all threats are even greater for marginalized and First Nations children. Children with disabilities are also disproportionately impacted.

As a children’s hospital leader, I’m a witness to the healthcare issues children face and the room there is for progress on child health outcomes relating to mental health and addictions, indigenous child and youth health outcomes and medication safety, highlighted by Children’s Healthcare Canada. For example, up to 75% of medications prescribed for children fall outside of Health Canada’s approved use.

This election season, ask candidates whether they are prepared to take responsibility to promote a healthy and safe childhood and safe and accessible healthcare for all Canadian children regardless of ability, wealth, or geography.

We, as in Canadian voters, can make a difference. For starters, we can elect leaders who will work toward improving the top 10 threats by appointing a Commission for Children and Youth, putting-in-place a strategy for children, publishing a Children’s Budget, committing to increased access to mental health and addictions services, fully implementing Jordan’s Principle so Indigenous children aren’t left further behind, and creating an expert panel on drugs and therapeutics for children.

A recent Children First Canada survey found that Canadians care deeply about the well-being of children and believe in investing in children will pay off in the future. Children don’t vote so they are counting on you, their parents, grandparents and educators to make kids’ concerns ballot box issues in 2019.

CEO blog: Dear Everybody is challenging the media landscape


There is something about the back to school season. Whether it has been years since you last entered a classroom or you are in the middle of your educational life, September feels like a time of renewal and excitement.

It’s also a time of bombardment of images in back to school ads. And as you look at that imagery, and listen to those commercials, and really pay attention, you’ll notice that something… something is missing.

Canadians with disabilities

Everybody wants a chance to be heard. Everybody wants a chance to be seen.

But for 6.2 million Canadians, those chances are too few and too far between.

In Canada, 22% of the population is living with a disability—more than a fifth of the population—but far fewer are seen in the media.

According to a report by GLAAD, out of the characters on primetime TV (during the 2018-2019 season) only 2.1 per cent had disabilities. And only 4.8 per cent of characters with a disability were played by actors who had the disability in real life. 

But let’s go beyond the numbers and try to understand what this really means. For 6.2 million Canadians this means they are barely seen, being excluded from roles they should be playing, and barely being given a platform to share their realities.

Not only do we need to raise those numbers, we need to do more to create fair and accurate portrayals of characters with disabilities in the media. Characters with disabilities are not “heroes overcoming the odds” or objects of pity. Characters with disabilities live the full range of human experience, with feelings, relationships, needs, joys, sorrows, independence and dependence.  They are children, siblings, friends, students, co-workers and more.

And it is time we saw all of that.

Dear Everybody

That is why we at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital are once again provoking a conversation.

As one of Canada’s Top 40 children’s research hospitals, we spend countless hours looking at how to improve and enable healthy and meaningful futures for children and families.

But we also spend countless hours advocating for child health and social change.

That is why I am excited to announce the launch of our third Dear Everybody campaign. A national movement, Dear Everybody drives forward the anti-stigma conversation, pushing boundaries and breaking barriers, building on Holland Bloorview’s values of courage, resilience, and equality.

The families and clients who enter our doors have always brought so much richness and are constantly effecting change within our walls. From Dear Everybody’s inception, it was important to us that kids and families co-create our campaign. They matter and we wanted them to know their voices do too.

Three years later, we can say that is still at a forefront of our movement.

They’ve spoken, we listened, and now it’s time to share.

Advertising matters

This year, Dear Everybody is taking on the advertising industry. We are asking brands and organizations to help us build a more diverse and inclusive media landscape.

While it excites me that Ali Stroker took home a Tony award and shows like Special and Speechless are making waves in the industry, we still have a long way to go to ensure more actors with disabilities, like George, are given the opportunities to achieve their career goals.

This year, we are encouraging casting agencies to consider accessibility when picking locations. We are encouraging brands to include people with disabilities in their “every day” ads. We are encouraging you to challenge your favourite brands to think about inclusion in their advertising. Why shouldn’t your favourite sneaker brand feature an athlete with a prosthetic limb or your favourite cosmetics brand a young woman wearing an awesome lipstick, who happens to use a wheelchair?

YOU can make a difference

Even the smallest of actions can have a big impact!

I hope you’ll take a small step today and join the movement by visiting and signing the Dear Everybody Agreement.

Once you do share the campaign with your family and friends, especially on social media, read the tip sheets and resources, and join me as we advocate for more inclusive and diverse representation in our media.

It’s time to see what a world without stigma looks like.

It’s time we include disability in the picture.

CEO blog: Checking in on strategy!

It’s hard to believe we are past the midway point of summer 2019 already! There is nothing we love more as Canadians than to complain about our weather but there has truly been nothing to say but “Thank You!” for the hot sunny summer we’ve been having (at least here in Southern Ontario).

As is usually the case, once we get into August thoughts turn to the work ahead in the fall. Let’s face it, we all know the real new year is the first day after Labour Day in September!

This fall also marks the midway point of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital five year strategy: No boundaries.

HB No boundaries Strategic plan

No boundaries at Holland Bloorview

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than two and a half years since the Board of Trustees launched the massive engagement that led to our ambitious No boundaries strategic plan. Our plan was created through 1000+ touch-points with children, youth, former clients (whom we now call alumni), families, staff and community partners. It launched in 2017 at a great event in our cafeteria that was co-hosted with family leader, Alifa Khan. This five year plan challenged us to personalize pathways, discover for action and connect the system powered by mobilizing people and teams, evolving client-centred quality and safety, co-creating with children, youth, families and alumni and leading and modeling social change.

When we launched No boundaries, we committed to a check in to review, refine and refresh our strategic plan in 2019.

Why engage in a strategy check in?

Two and a half years ago we said we would hold ourselves accountable to the ambition of the No boundaries strategy. We wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t cruise through the back half of the plan, nor did we want to hit five years and realize that we hadn’t made the kind of impact that is embodied in our vision: the most meaningful and healthy futures for all children, youth and families.

We wanted to make sure that Holland Bloorview was part of any conversation about child health and was influencing meaningful social change. In addition to having a bold strategy, we aspired to support it with a people-focused culture that would be second to none. After all, probably the most quoted business axiom ever is that “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

At the halfway point of our No boundaries strategy, much has changed for children, youth, alumni, families and Holland Bloorview staff: in the public policy environment with the change of provincial government and a federal election coming in fall 2019; in the research and innovation ecosystems; in technology, among our academic and healthcare partners; in the healthcare system and in community and home. A strategy check in will give us an opportunity to step back from our day-to-day work to explore what is progressing, what might need to evolve, and what we might need to consider to ensure we are making the biggest possible impact.

What will we achieve with the strategy check in?

With the strategy check in we will:

  • Lead an engaging and meaningful strategy process with our children, youth, families, alumni, staff and partners;
  • Share No Boundaries accomplishments to date; and
  • Ensure we are on the right course and evolve as necessary.

How do you get involved?

We plan on creating a rapid and powerful strategy check in process between September and October 2019 with our children, youth, families, alumni, staff and partners. There will be many ways to get involved including in-person sessions in October and through digital engagement opportunities (keep an eye out for updates on our website and social media channels).

Days are (already) getting shorter!

Enjoy the end of summer with friends, family and loved ones. It’s going to be a busy and exciting fall at Holland Bloorview!

CEO blog: National Bereaved Parents Month

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.”

– Helen Keller (

Peter pan.jpg

I just learned that July is National Bereaved Parents Month.

At the end of June, I attended Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s 3rd annual Celebration of Life. It was my first time attending (it takes place on a weekend afternoon and “mom-ing” had conflicted with the first two years). The event memorializes all the children who our teams have cared for who have died. There were some parents and siblings there whose children had died scarcely a year ago and who had been actively under our care at the time of their death. There were others whose children had died decades ago and decades after they were our patients.

We looked at pictures of young people who have died since the last ceremony, shared time in the garden weaving an art piece with ribbons representing every lost life and planted new perennials in their honour.

Each family wanted to share with me. I heard stories of their late loved ones, from favourite music to goofiest gaff. So many wanted to share stories of incredible caring from my team – in one case grabbing a nurse and bringing her to me because “I want her to hear me saying this to you.”

This Celebration of Life was meaningful but sparsely attended. Perhaps that’s because we are bad at talking about grief. We are great at celebrating success – check out the average Instagram feed for the “highlight reels” that people typically post. But we don’t know what to say to the bereaved. We struggle to find the right words, to get over our fear of saying the wrong thing and our fear of being in the presence of pain.  To be present with loss we have to be willing to be vulnerable.

Speaking of vulnerability,  the night before the Celebration of Life, I was emailing with Marylyn Ballantyne, our incredibly wise and experienced chief nurse executive and sharing that I was worried I would “lose it” at the event. I had to speak and wasn’t sure if I’d make it through without crying; something that I hate doing in professional settings. Her response:  it’s okay to lose it.

Respect for ways that anyone experiences loss (for example, the choice to come to an event or not, to share one’s own experiences or to keep them private) is one thing I believe is important. There is no “right” way to grieve.

I’m still learning every day how to be compassionately in the presence of loss, my own and others. The only thing I know is that the only way to get better at it is to simply do it.