Cornwall Hospital: Jeanette Despatie, CEO

by HCE Exchange on March 3, 2011

The merger of two medical facilities in Cornwall, Ontario is just the beginning of the rebirth underway at Cornwall Hospital, a 170-bed acute-care facility with a long history serving the residents of Eastern Ontario. In 2004, Hotel Dieu acute care Hospital and The Cornwall General Hospital joined forces as a corporation and in 2006 the Canadian Council of Health Services accredited Cornwall for the first time since the merger of the two facilities.

“The two hospitals existed for 150 years,” said CEO Jeanette Despatie.  “That’s a long history of care in the community.”

Cornwall Hospital now boasts 1,000 employees, an operating budget of $90 million, and an  expansion and capital improvement project. Hotel Dieu Hospital, where Despatie served as CEO prior to the merger, continues as a chronic care and long-term care facility.

Redevelopment Project

Despatie refers to this as an exciting time in Cornwall, as executives and staff alike celebrate the approval by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to award a contract for a five-year, $100 million redevelopment project with construction costs of $80 million.  Cornwall currently provides healthcare at two locations – the McConnell Avenue site and the Second Street site.  Plans call for all services to be offered at the McConnell Avenue site.

“The new site will include 95,000 square feet of new construction and 80,000 square feet of renovation,” she said.  “This project is to be completed in the 2012-2013 timeframe.  It will be a great benefit to have everything consolidated at one location.”

When completed, the facility will see a new surgical area, including five new operating rooms.  The space will also include new emergency and diagnostic departments, each handling critical care cases.  In addition, the hospital will be making significant investments in new equipment, most significant of which are MRI services.

Successful Merger

The hospital took a two-pronged approach when creating the new hospital, Despatie said.  The first challenge was developing a mission/value piece focused on the hospital’s new identity and how the new entity would perform.

“One of the critical factors we recognized early on in the amalgamation was that we really needed to define who we were, where we wanted to go and how we would get there,” she said.  “In defining the hospital’s mission and articulating the new organization’s values we have helped to shape its culture.”

The other “prong” involved Cornwall’s resources – people, physical plant and fiscal resources.  The hospital began an aggressive medical staff recruitment effort, actively seeking specialists, Despatie said.

“We feel we have had great success in bringing the organization together, and that success is defined by our people,” she said.  “The two organizations, while they existed separate for many years, were made up of people from the same community.  Bringing the employees together has been a positive experience.”

While construction plans are on track, the CEO said the one piece that is lagging is the operating budget.  However, she said the hospital has received significant support from the local health integration network, and a strategy is in place for identifying the critical resources necessary for future success.

Human Resource Challenge

A change in the course requirements for registered nurses in Ontario left Cornwall struggling to recruit nurses.  Despatie said that in the last few years, the traditional nursing program was replaced with a baccalaureate requirement by the college of nurses.

“Our community is currently served by a community college as opposed to a university,” she said.  “The community college in the past had a strong nursing program.  With the baccalaureate program, we’ve gone for a few years without any local graduates and we’ve felt the impact on our recruitment.”

Fortunately, the local college attracted a university program to their campus and will soon see its first graduating class of baccalaureate degree nurses, significantly aiding the region’s nursing recruitment.

Quality Programs

Cornwall Hospital is involved with the Managing Obstetrical Risk Efficiently (MORE) OB program, a comprehensive, three-year, patient safety, professional development, and performance improvement program for caregivers and administrators in hospital obstetrics units.  In addition, the hospital participates in Accreditation Canada, as well as a risk management program sponsored by Healthcare Insurance Reciprocal of Canada (HIROC).

Patient Safety

At Cornwall, patient safety is a top priority.  All patient safety issues are coordinated through a Director of Quality Performance, who reports directly to the CEO.

“This was intentional,” Despatie said, “to have finance and patient safety are at the same level in the organization.”

Another unique initiative on the hospital’s part is monthly patient safety “walkabouts,” during which each member of the senior executive team takes a turn visiting different units throughout the hospital.  They meet with frontline staff members, discussing patient safety issues.

“This is a way to generate ideas for improving patient safety,” Despatie said.

The hospital also participates in Safer Healthcare Now, a Canadian-wide patient safety initiative launched in April 2005.

Management Philosophy

Despatie relies on evidence to measure the hospital’s quality and fiscal performance, and prepares a plan from those results.  Part of that measurement also involves comparing the hospital to benchmarks across the industry.  Looking at figures made available by Canada’s Ministry of Health, the CEO said Cornwall ranks “up there” with its peers in the healthcare field.

“We are very proud of our performance and we’re proud of the level of service that we’re able to provide to our community,” she said.  “We’re reassured of a solid future with the plans that are coming together.”

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Nancy Rourke February 8, 2013 at 12:38 am

I will be putting my house up for sale in March or April and am planning on moving to Cornwall, as soon as I can sell it. I currently volunteer at my local hospital (Temiskaming Hospital in New Liskeard, Ontario) gift shop and am on the Auxiliary and would like to know if there is a gift shop at your hospital? And if you have an Auxiliary there? I would love to be part of that. Thank you
Nancy Rourke

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