Eastern Health: Vicki Kaminski, President and CEO

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Just over five years ago, in May of 2005, Eastern Health was born of a merger. Fourteen healthcare organizations and boards in Newfoundland and Labrador became four regional health authorities, of which Eastern Health is the largest. This relatively new, integrated health system, which is still evolving, serves a population of nearly 300,000 with over 13,000 employees.

“We’ve got lots of work to do … We’ve had some pretty rocky times,” says Vicki Kaminski, President and CEO since June of 2009. Just after Eastern Health was formed, there was an issue with breast cancer testing. In short, the health authority found problems with the hormone receptor tests of 1,088 patients. These testing errors resulted in some women receiving treatment they should not have received and others lacking treatment they should have received. “The organization as a whole was very focused on trying to resolve those issues, deal with the patients, their specific test results, retesting and their treatment, and begin to restore the public’s  confidence,” says Kaminski.

What Eastern Health Brings to Communities

Repairing the public’s perception of Eastern Health was only part of the battle. Many people, employees included, felt that they had given up some of their autonomy in the merger. They worried that the closeness they felt to their hospitals or long-term care facilities was being lost to the larger entity. “We had to demonstrate to them that we could, as Eastern Health, bring to them services that were going to make it better. We had to talk to them about their needs and how we were going to meet them,” says Kaminski.

The 12-member executive team is located throughout the whole Eastern Health region, both rural and urban. They make a point of being visible throughout Eastern Health’s 80 facilities, which include hospitals, health centres and long term care facilities, which is no small job. “It is important they see us taking an active role in decision making at those sites and letting people see that the bigger organization isn’t going to destroy the aspects of the smaller organization that they knew and loved,” says Kaminski.

Technology and Modernization

As a large organization, they’ve been able to invest $76.7 million in new technology and equipment in the past couple of years. They have also spent more than $100 million on redevelopment that includes new facilities and renovations across the region. “From an infrastructure perspective, a lot of our facilities are really old,” says Kaminski. “Newfoundland and Labrador has traditionally not had a lot of money to spend on capital investments. It’s only been in recent years, with some of our discoveries of oil off-shore and our ability to capitalize on that kind of marketplace, that we’ve been able to see an increase in our budget and an increase in our ability to spend money where we need it.”

By working to standardize their information technologies, they are able to bring services to their rural populations that would have been more difficult when each site was functioning as a separate entity. There have been many developments in tele-medicine, for instance, and they are currently working with the University Health Network in Ontario to pilot a comprehensive tele-pathology program.

“We’re also looking at our information systems internally and how we can make better use of some of our technical networking that has to take place,” Kaminski says. “Beyond our patient platforms for medical technology, how can we integrate and standardize some of the communication vehicles we have, such as email and social networking opportunities. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area because we have a number of communities in Eastern Health that haven’t always had good access to even something as simple as the internet. The province has spent a lot of money putting in broadband networks, and we are looking at how we can use those for some of our facilities and still maintain the security that we need to maintain for privacy of information.”

Building Confidence

“Eastern Health, as an organization, really does care about what we do and how we do it,” says Kaminski. “We are very interested in having good outcomes for our patients and our clients. We are interested in having staff who feel respected and well treated by the organization, and we really need public trust and confidence.

“We really do need to be a part of the community that we are serving – that means we have to participate as equal partners. For the staff, we have to start celebrating the goodness of what we do. When I’ve talked to the staff, I say, ‘How many of you get the reaction that when you talk to somebody and they ask where you work, they roll their eyes and say, Oh you poor thing?’ We have to change that. That’s not who we are.

“We have very good success stories if you look at our patient encounters. By and large, 99% of them go very well. If you only listen to the public recounting of Eastern Health, you would think that wasn’t so. You’d think that more often than not, things went wrong.

“I get comments from people that talk about the good care they’ve received here and they talk about it with a bit of surprise in their voice. They’ve come to expect that it should be terrible because of our reputation. We are struggling and working very hard to change that.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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