Southlake Regional Health Centre: Dan Carriere, CEO

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One only needs to look at the construction going on at Southlake Regional Health Centre to understand the second half of the organization’s motto, “change is welcomed.” In just 12 years, CEO Dan Carriere and his staff have transformed a mid-sized community hospital into a comprehensive, state-of-the art health centre that now serves the entire region through what he calls “the art of the possible.” Despite all the changes however, the organization works diligently to keep its compassionate, caring atmosphere and remain true to its entire motto, “Tradition is cherished, change is welcomed.”

Strategic Transformation of a Small Community Hospital

Southlake Regional Health Centre has undergone radical changes; 10 years ago, the organization had an operating budget of $58 million. Today its budget has more than quadrupled to $250 million, and Southlake has over 2500 staff, close to 400 physicians and a corps of 500 volunteers. Not a coincidence, the changes have taken place according to a long-term plan begun 12 years ago. According to Carriere, this transformation has come about through significant efforts made to meet the demands of growth in the region. He also noted that the transformation reflects the internal growth of the organization through the generation of new programs and services.

Carriere and his staff began by assessing their organization’s internal strengths as well as the gaps in services available in the region. The organization then set out to provide what Carriere calls “shockingly excellent service,” by developing around five focal points: cardiovascular care, cancer care, pediatrics and perinatal care, adolescent mental healthcare, and emergency services. Prior to Southlake’s transformation, people living in the Newmarket area would have had to travel to Toronto to receive advanced services in these areas. Now almost unrecognizable in comparison to its humble beginnings, Southlake is currently a regional center for cardiovascular care, pediatrics & prenatal care, child and adolescent mental healthcare, and is building a new regional cancer center that will open in 2009. Upon completion, Southlake will be the only non-teaching hospital in Ontario to specialize in both cardiac and cancer care and to offer a total of five regional programs. Southlake’s emergency care department is also continually growing and improving.

Supporting Growth and Innovation at Southlake Regional Health Centre

One of the most amazing aspects of Southlake’s transformation process is that it was achieved on a limited budget. As Carriere says, “We work to set ourselves apart, without money, by relying on our human capital; we could not do otherwise because we did not have any significant amounts of disposable funds.” Instead, Carriere and his staff developed an organizational philosophy centered around “the art of the possible.” By this, Carriere means the creation of an environment in which all employees are willing to take calculated risks in developing new initiatives and programs. This translates into staffing at Southlake, where Carriere seeks out skilled personnel who have strong leadership skills, who are compassionate, who work well as part of a team, who are deeply committed to quality and safety and who are willing to share accountability. To him, although finding employees with these traits may be difficult, these qualities are essential to being able to provide shockingly excellent service.

Challenges to Excellence

Providing shockingly excellent service is no easy task under the best of circumstances, but Southlake Regional Health Centre manages to do so despite being a public hospital that is largely dependent upon Provincial Authorities for funding and subject to important government oversight. Other funding must be done through the hospital foundation. While the restrictive economic situation makes innovation more difficult, Southlake has succeeded in making significant strides.

Another challenge that Southlake Regional Health Centre faces is that the area population grows by 30,000 people each year on average. This population growth is compounded by the fact that Southlake has become a regional treatment facility and must meet the demands imposed by growth in surrounding areas as well. For example, the cardiac care program that was just started in 2003 is already the fourth busiest program in the province, projected to be the third busiest by 2010. With the increased demand, Carriere has focused on meeting the public’s high expectations while working to manage the extra stress it puts on his staff. The additional demand for services has created a greater workload, which, if not addressed, could lead to staff burnout.

To keep up with demand while still providing shockingly excellent service, Carriere and Southlake Regional Health Centre’s employees concentrate on patient satisfaction and safety. The Board of Directors even has a committee that conducts quarterly quality reviews, so the focus on excellence goes well beyond the day-to-day operations, all the way to the leadership of the organization. Southlake has made extensive efforts to reduce patient mortality, medication errors, and wait times. The organization has also reduced nosocomial infections to fewer than 1 per 1000 admissions. Carriere notes that “we have made significant progress on patient safety and satisfaction, especially considering that we have built a hospital within a hospital over the last couple of years with all the construction going on.”

Continuing to Welcome Change

While Dan Carriere is proud of what Southlake Regional Health Centre has achieved on his watch, he is not willing to rest yet. As the healthcare organization with the 9th highest tertiary caseload in the province, he has a new barometer by which to measure success. As he notes that all 8 of the hospitals above Southlake in terms of tertiary caseload are teaching hospitals, he and his leadership team are now focused on developing teaching and research themselves. To keep up with their new peers, the Southlake team must be at the forefront of technological innovation. In February 2007, Southlake became the first hospital in the world to host a new groundbreaking technology that vastly improves the treatment of cardiac patients and reduces exposure to X-rays.

However, this new concentration on innovation requires significant fundraising, and for that Carriere turns to his foundation and to public-private partnerships to allow his organization to become more sophisticated while keeping their small hospital atmosphere and compassion. For Carriere, it comes down to finding alternative funding vehicles and different ways to “make things happen.” He is excited about the possibilities and works constantly to “give his staff the opportunities to be great people in a great organization.”

-by David Winterstein

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