CEO Blog: Harnessing creativity and risk-taking for impact

The stereotype we are all familiar with is that hospitals are risk-averse and rigid. Indeed, when entrusted with individuals’ health and safety, our appetite for risk is low. Further, healthcare is one of the most complex systems in existence, more complex than banking, manufacturing, or education. Why? At least in part because the various combinations of care, activities, events, interactions and outcomes are virtually infinite (Braithwaite, J., BMJ (2018;361:k2014)).

So how do we get past our risk-averse tendencies and bring about change amid this complexity? A big part of the answer is embracing an innovative mindset. The challenge is how do we, as health care leaders, create an environment where the amazing ideas our staff, physicians, clients, and families have are harnessed into actions that make a positive impact and help us more effectively deploy our resources?

Read my full column in the August issue of Hospital News.



CEO Blog: Danforth Strong, Toronto Strong

This week has been a tough one with the unthinkable shooting on the Danforth, compounded by equally heartbreaking gun violence across so many of our neighbourhoods and the van attack only a couple of months ago. Learning that one of the victims, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, was going to study nursing at university in the fall hits many of us at Holland Bloorview particularly hard, as did the news that victim Julianna Kozis was only 10 years old. We will be flying our flag at half-mast over the next week.

This week, and every week, I encourage all of our Holland Bloorview staff members to check in with colleagues and teams to offer support and remind each other that immediate mental health resources are always available through our Employee and Family Assistance Program. Our program provider, Morneau Shepell, has also set up a crisis support line for anyone in the community in need of emotional support in relation to this event. The number is 1-844-751-2133 and is open 24/7.

Empathy and kindness are top-of-mind as we think about all of the many families, neighbours and friends touched by this tragedy. We are so fortunate in our city to have such incredible first responders and colleagues in trauma centres and communities that rally in times of deep need. We continue to prove over and over again how resilient and compassionate we are in this city.

We will always be Danforth Strong, Toronto Strong.



CEO Blog: New Strategy. New Challenges. New Leadership.

It’s the time of year when people tend to start asking each other what their summer vacation plans are. Whenever I’m asked that these days my answer is the same “I’m searching for 3 new people to join my leadership team – that’s what I’m up to this summer!” I say it with excitement in my voice and a skip in my step because I see change as opportunity and I’m eager to welcome extraordinary new people to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital as vice president people and culture, vice president corporate innovation and services and executive lead equity, diversity and inclusion. How lucky will those ultimately successful candidates be to join this superb organization.

However, recently I was challenged. More or less what was put to me is this: we have waitlists; we could use additional clinicians and other frontline staff; why are we spending scarce resources on these roles? I’ve got to admit my first response was defensive. But then I stopped and thought, good questions… and ones I too had considered before moving forward.

I fundamentally believe that we have important and urgent work to do investing in people and culture, in innovating in our corporate services and operations, and in equity, diversity and inclusion in order to achieve the goals of our No Boundaries strategy of which we are so proud. We are poised for new accomplishments on a foundation of excellence including meeting 100% of the standards on our Accreditation Canada quality survey this year and being awarded Exemplary Standing; being a leading patient-centred care organization with our recent Merck Patients First Award; 8 years as a GTA Best Employer; a Corman Award for compassionate care; I could go on and on.

We don’t get to this terrific place without intention and investment in people leadership. Today more than ever before we need to invest in bold new leadership, precisely because of the challenges to access to services, the new more complex clients we service and the diversity of challenges clients and families face.

We need leadership that will give each individual confidence that she or he can provide reliable, consistent high quality care; leadership to ensure we are a learning organization; leadership enabling and supporting every member of our team to bring their whole selves to work and to do their best work every day safely and with joy; leadership to reduce disparities in access through targeted equity and inclusion work grounded in evidence including responding to the healthcare recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; leadership for effectiveness and innovation to all that we do including in technology and resources.

With the individuals that are members of our search committees, front line clinicians, nurses, doctors, managers, educators and administrative leaders, I promise that we will find amazing people for these roles that will help each of us to do the work that matters most to us, for the most meaningful and healthy futures for all children, youth and families.



CEO Blog: Finding Our Voices

The other evening I heard Mark Sakamoto give a reading from his beautiful book Forgiveness, this year’s Canada Reads winner. Mark was Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s guest at an event where we were showcasing the work of the researchers in the Bloorview Research Institute and sharing our plans for the largest growth in our research history.

Mark drew a parallel between his grandmother’s lost voice because of Canada’s Japanese internment during the Second World War, to the missing voices of children with disabilities. Most literally, this parallel relates to children whose physical disabilities prevent them from speaking — the lifetime passion of our VP Research Dr Tom Chau (see a recent interview on the occasion of his winning a Governor General’s Innovation Award here).

Speech and having a voice is also what drives Dr Deryk Beal whose research in neuromodulation is leading the way in the development of new treatments administering very small electric or magnetic energy pulses to specific parts of the brain, triggering pathways that can potentially accelerate learning in areas such as language.

The voices of young people with disabilities are missing in less literal ways too: frequently from election priorities, from social policy, from the priorities of schools and school boards, from the ranks of employers and corporate boardrooms. This is changing, and Holland Bloorview is part of that change through policy impacts, awareness raising and cutting edge research relating to barriers to employment among many other activities. With a vision of the most meaningful and healthy futures for all children, youth and families,  and a mission that includes social justice for people with disabilities, change in the world is as important to us as is extraordinary care, educating the next generation of doctors and clinicians, and transformational research.

I also want every member of the Holland Bloorview team to have a voice. Our No Boundaries strategy requires that courage and opportunity and we need to do what it takes to ensure everybody feels safe to have their own unique and diverse voice. That’s why Pride celebrations are important to Holland Bloorview and why I am proud of the many things that Holland Bloorview will be doing to recognize Pride in our walls and beyond them this June and why I’m equally excited to launch a search for an executive leader for equity, diversity and inclusion in the coming weeks.

May is speech and hearing month. Be a part of ensuring that all voices are heard.



CEO Blog: Toronto, April 23, 2018

This week as Torontonians we mourn lost lives and wish for speedy and complete recoveries for the injured in the tragic incident at Yonge and Finch. Events similar to this one have happened around the globe and with compassion we have expressed condolences to other cities and countries. Yesterday and today we receive these thoughts and words as our global community reaches out in solidarity to Torontonians and Canadians. I am grateful for the extraordinary work of first responders and of our colleague neighbours at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and other local hospitals. We are fortunate to have such excellent and well-prepared healthcare colleagues and a system able to respond when tragically called upon. For Holland Bloorview employees and their families there is our Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) for support for those who need it and I have encouraged our team to reach out to managers and human resources as needed. For our clients and families we have care teams and our client and family integrated care team and family leadership program today and every day.

We are indeed Toronto Strong.



CEO Blog: Working to knock down boundaries every day

Do you have a bright idea?

One year ago we completed our strategic plan, No Boundaries. Our strategy is to put all of our energy towards enabling children and families to have the most meaningful and healthy futures by personalizing pathways, discovering for action and connecting the systems in which we work. We do this every day throughout our organization, at the point of care, in our teams, as we plan, through our budgets and as we engage our community, funders and donors for support. No Boundaries empowers each of us to make change every day.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas and that’s why we created the No Boundaries Fund to encourage all members of our Holland Bloorview team to launch ideas that bring No Boundaries to life and the No Boundaries Strategy Council to maintain our momentum. Great ideas happen anywhere, anytime and from any floor or department of the hospital. The Strategy Council had its first meeting last week. Our council includes “alumni” (former clients and youth leaders), physicians, frontline staff, managers, researchers, family leaders, members of health disciplines, of the Senior Management Team and includes 6 members who self-nominated. The Council will keep us honest and on track to keep the energy of No Boundaries alive at Holland Bloorview and they are ambassadors for our strategy. Have a question, comment or idea for the council? Reach out to Sean Peacocke, Holland Bloorview’s Manager of Strategy.

At this first meeting, Council was clear that we need to share more stories of where No Boundaries is taking hold and how we are making progress on our plan. For example,

  • solution focused coaching training is spreading, giving our team members the skills to understand what matters most to clients and families and put that in place through integrated and coordinated care plans to enable personalized pathways;
  • we’ve established a new director of commercialization role to enable access to new technology developed out of our research institute and to help scientists find industry partners;
  • we worked with clinicians, clients and families to develop a pilot for extended hours of service in some ambulatory services;
  • we used design-thinking methodology supported by our Centre for Leadership in Innovation to develop 2 new measures for inclusion in this year’s Quality Improvement Plan;
  • we are upping our digital healthcare game by enabling clinicians to have virtual visits with clients through the Ontario Telehealth Network
  • we’ve completed mapping of the various ways that our clients first make contact with Holland Bloorview to develop plans to enhance the first point of contact and identify ways that we can make the time between referral and service meaningful, i.e. providing access to helpful resources immediately for all clients, such a great education sessions for caregivers or group workshops to address immediate concerns

No Boundaries Funds are granted up to a maximum of $5,000 per request, with a total of $50,000 of donor funding available in 2018-19. With No Boundaries Fund grants staff can address pressing needs, identify new and emerging challenges and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Last year the No Boundaries Fund enabled a number of great projects including:

  • a workshop to teach caregivers how to uses infographics to share child/family stories
  • behavioral and sensory workshops for caregivers to help them with their most pressing needs
  • “Saturday Fun Night” giving respite to families with a fun evening for clients and siblings supported by nursing and therapeutic recreation
  • phone charging station (coming soon!)
  • youth video feedback corner (coming soon!)
  • a parent group to promote self-empathy and resilience in a supportive environment where parents felt safe sharing stories
  • an app designed to use the power of artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing to help kids and families navigate services and programs (under development)

For this year’s No Boundaries Fund grant requests can be made from April 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018. If you are a member of the Holland Bloorview team, email to submit your request. Share your idea with me for an opportunity to bring it to life.



CEO Blog: HB FIRST® Robotics

In October 2015 Holland Bloorview launched the first program with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in the GTA for kids with disabilities, in partnership with FIRST® Robotics Canada. The HB FIRST® Robotics program began as a pilot program and has since expanded to offer classes in the winter, spring and fall for outpatient clients, from ages six to 14. To date, over 250 participants have registered in the program and taken away decision-making, problem-solving and teamwork skills through an innovative and creative learning experience that sparks their interest in STEM.

I first learned about FIRST® Robotics Canada when my son was a little kid and participated in FIRST® LEGO League. I was just blown away when I went to watch the first competition he participated in. The kids were motivated, the whole program taught skills far beyond the robot including communication and team work, and it was really fun. When I was at Ryerson University I worked with FIRST® Robotics Canada CEO Mark Breadner to bring the GTA FIRST® Robotics Competition to Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre and to bring Ryerson in as a sponsor.

Shortly after I became CEO of Holland Bloorview Mark came to visit me here and we thought there could be an amazing opportunity to bring FIRST® Robotics to a children’s hospital and particularly into the lives of children with disabilities. Ever since, FIRST® Robotics Canada has been an exceptional partner and is deeply aligned to our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and meaningful lives and futures for kids with disabilities. The FIRST® folks even have a Capes for Kids team!

This month I’m interviewing Lynn Rampertab, the robotics coordinator at Holland Bloorview, who leads the HB FIRST® Robotics program. Lynn has been with FIRST® Robotics Canada since 2008 specializing in STEM Education. She joined Holland Bloorview in 2015 to break ground on the HB FIRST® Robotics partnership.

Lynn Rampertab with a LEGO robot creation.

What has been the response from kids who have participated in the program?

Some of the best feedback I’ve heard comes directly from our participants and their families. Participants have fun in the program and for some it’s given them an opportunity to explore their interest in computers and programming. Parents love that their kids are meaningfully engaged and eager to learn something new.

From my perspective, watching children arrive to their session with enthusiasm and excitement is always rewarding.


From your perspective, how do the kids benefit from learning about STEM and robotics?

Building literacy in STEM is a necessity in today’s technology enriched environment. STEM competence and confidence creates pathways to well-paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in the fastest-growing fields, creating the potential for young people to achieve purposeful and prosperous lives.  Often these opportunities don’t exist for children with disabilities. Exposing children with disabilities to STEM and robotics opens up a world of possibilities they may not have considered before.

Christopher (2)
Kids in the Intermediate HB FIRST® Robotics program learn concepts they can apply to  their designs.


How did the partnership between FIRST® Robotics Canada and Holland Bloorview begin?

In the summer of 2015, FIRST® Robotics Canada was invited to meet with a team from Holland Bloorview to look at how we could collaborate on a program that promotes STEM-interest amongst children with disabilities. The FIRST® Robotics Canada team worked  very closely with the multidisciplinary staff at Holland Bloorview to ensure we built in adaptive features that removed the barriers to access while maintaining a high degree of learning in both building and programming robots.

FIRST® Robotics Canada developed the curriculum, provided expert teaching leads to facilitate the classes and recruited volunteers for the program. Holland Bloorview created the adaptive features and helps to recruit additional volunteers, when needed.

A great example of this collaboration is the Communicator 5 program, which allows a child that uses a hummer switch to interface with our LabView-based computer program. We have also created digital files that allow children to build virtually instead of physically and use hand-over-hand techniques, where a child’s hand rests on top of a volunteer’s while they perform activities, among other accessibility features to further enhance participation.


How did you get involved with FIRST® Robotics Canada and end up leading the program?

I started in FIRST® Robotics Canada as a parent who watched my own children find something they were passionate about while learning real world skills like problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, presentation and time management. The turning point for me was watching my children help other teams at a competition even though they were competing against them.  It was inspiring to see.  As my children become more immersed within the program, I became a volunteer to stay connected to them and share in an activity that they felt passionate about.

After a couple of years, I was offered a position and I jumped at the opportunity to continue working to spread the principles of this program beyond my own community.  FIRST® Robotics Canada gave me the opportunity to make a real difference and challenged me with many new initiatives. My work with FIRST® Robotics Canada led me to Holland Bloorview.


What are the key factors that have made the program a success?

It was important to make sure the HB FIRST® Robotics program included STEM concepts coupled with meaningful participation and real world skill building opportunities. We’ve also embedded a rigorous research and evaluation component in the program to help ensure that we are meeting the needs of children and youth moving forward.

The success of this program has really been threefold.  The partnership Holland Bloorview has forged with FIRST® Robotics Canada, the sponsorship we have received from Capital One and Argosy Foundation and the access to passionate staff from multidisciplinary backgrounds have all been key ingredients to our success.

A child in the Junior program interacts with a volunteer at a table full of colourful LEGO pieces.


What’s the one thing about developing or running the program that has been the most challenging?

One of the biggest challenges I had at the onset of developing this program was my own mindset.  I had never worked with children with disabilities and had no idea what to expect.  I found that when I shed my own biases and recognized that each child learns in their own unique way, it opened my mind up to new possibilities. Then we were able to create a program that meets all our goals of fostering life skills, self-confidence, communication and social skills, while increasing interest in STEM.

As this program moves forward, we continue to develop lessons that are focused on computer programming and building concepts and we work with other Holland Bloorview staff to make sure they are accessible.  We work with each child and their family to develop a unique learning strategy that allows them to participate meaningful both with the program content and their peers.


Talk about the plans to offer the program at other hospitals and organizations for kids with disabilities

In a concerted effort to connect the system, Holland Bloorview has linked with Children’s Treatment Centres to advance collaborative partnerships and fill gaps so clients across Ontario can participate in robotics programming.  Examples of these partnerships include KidsAbility in Cambridge, ErinoakKids in the GTA and Grandview Children’s Centre in Oshawa who all have plans to run their first pilot in the fall of 2018.