Listening Tour: Patrick Gaskin, CEO Cambridge Memorial Hospital

Today’s stop on Scott’s Cambridge Listening Tour: Patrick Gaskin, CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH).

Good universal healthcare is what helps define Canada as a caring nation and a world-leader. When our tax dollars go to healthcare, education, and social services, they not only help children and those in need, but sow the seeds of a healthier, happier, smarter and more creative community to come. It’s one of the best investments we can make.

So what’s the deal with CMH?

CMH employs 1,100 healthcare professionals and technicians, 280 physicians (MDs), and has over 400 volunteers.

CMH and provides Cambridge with “services such as surgery, emergency care, birthing, women and children’s care, medical care, intensive care, mental health care, full diagnostic services and laboratory services.”

I sat down with Patrick Gaskin, the CEO of CMH, to ask him some questions about our hospital. Below is some of our conversation!


1) Patrick, tell me about CMH.

“Well, there’s about 140,000 people in Cambridge, and we see about half of the community come through our Emergency Room doors every year. That’s a lot of people needing care.

24/7, we have between 200 – 300 staff working here, plus volunteers and 50-100 physicans, especially during the day. It’s a busy place.

We deal with everything. From delivering babies and taking care of sick kids, to broken bones, surgeries, and cancer. But when it comes to community healthcare we offer a range, like medicine, critical care, surgical procedures, pediatrics, a strong in-patient/out-patient ratio, and we offer acute rehabilitation services for 2-3 weeks rather than 4-6 months.

2) What are some of the challenges facing CMH today?

Well, first is obviously the capital project and new wing that’s being opened. The original opening day that was set for November 2016? Time’s passed since then, for difficult reasons that the community’s aware of. Now, construction’s moving along and work’s proceeding, and we’re awaiting the day when we can announce the opening. Still can’t comment on the completion date though!

Second, we have the renovation of our B-Wing that will occur after this. That’s very exciting.

Third, we have challenges with our capital funding. We have few grants from the government, so we need to raise money for our new building. There’s always an ongoing demand, because if the government gives you 2% of costs but the price rises 3%, then you’re put under pressure!

Fourth, we have to improve patient experience. In our old facility, half of the community that used it would recommend it. We need that number to go up, and we want people here to have an amazing experience getting the care they need and expect. We need to ‘partner with patients’ and prove that patients matter most, incorporating their voice in the way we offer care. And we’ve started this, with things like 24-hour visitation periods.

Fifth, we need to improve staff engagement. We need to make work joyful. Care, helping someone in distress, is something that can bring joy, and people working here can feel this and bring it to patients too. 42% of staff feel great, and 1/3 say they feel good. We need to improve this, and rock it!

Sixth, the direction of healthcare in Canada and its transformations are always a challenge. It’s an exciting time for healthcare here, it’s exciting to talk with and work with community organizations like Langs, and there are massive challenges, like the opioid crisis.

3) You mention partnering with community organisations, and there are some exciting projects coming to CMH that do this, right?

Yes! It’s daunting and exciting at the same time. Out of 31 agencies, the Ontario Heath Teams has asked us to make a full proposal to them on October 9th, to transform the way care is delivered at CMH while also doing the right thing for the taxpayer. Partnering with agencies such as Langs, we’re looking at how to deliver care differently; how to make care seamless, such as connecting more with primary care physicians for “medication reconciliation”, or basically coordinating care more so information and prescriptions aren’t delivered or overlapped in multiple places at multiple times with no dialogue.

We start by looking at how care can be improved and how we can work with patients in different ways to make it more seamless. So, we have our vision and goals, such as full end-to-end care, where patients feel supported and valued, and there are no ‘cold handoffs’, as we’ll call them!

4) You mentioned the opioid crisis. How is this affecting CMH?

We all have a part to play. This is a massive local, national, global issue. It’s not going away soon. And it’s tough sitting here on Coronation St., when the problems are hitting the cores of Galt, Preston, Hespeler… So how do we address big problems that aren’t going away? There’s consumption going on in our streets, and people are dying. Affordable housing, increasing therapy, addictions counselling, safe consumption sites, these are all required.

At CMH, we have workers from Stonehenge that have lived experiences of addictions, who understand what it’s like to have been there. This helps the sufferer, it helps staff, and it counters biases, stigmas, and fears of the unknown.

Dealing with mental health issues and addictions is essential now, and it’s part of our ‘4 pedals of care’.

5) What can the government do to help hospitals like CMH?

The government needs to recognize the importance of transitioning to new models, reducing the ‘silo’ed mentality’, so to speak. The Ontario Health Team project can help with this, changing the way some outdated services function. It’s easy to think systemically, but it’s hard to act it out or ‘operationalize’ these changes.

Pharmacare is also one of those daunting and exciting opportunities! Canada is the only Western industrialized country that has healthcare but no pharmaceutical care. Naturally, it needs to be done in an affordable and cost effective way, but the prospect is exciting.

Locally, there’s the challenge of meeting new and growing needs with new models of care. Hospitals of the future will likely have less in-hospital care because there are more community-based and local organizations that can cover some services – like cataract surgery, for example, where this can be covered under health plans but clinics are located elsewhere, like shopping malls.

Hospitals are places where the intensity of care required is urgent and severe. If it’s not urgent or severe, then can we locate these services in the community?

The split between public-private when it comes to healthcare has always been contentious and mixed. We need to ensure we find the best model, and find how we can guarantee access even if parts are private.

6) If you could send a message to every resident of Cambridge, what would you tell them?

We all have a role to play. An important one is to be on top of your health, to be your own ‘advocate!’ This is not to blame anyone for any health issues of course, but to remind people to ‘own’ their health. Eat well, exercise, don’t smoke, and take care of your mental health, too!

If we really want to make an impact, we can invest in preventative measures socially, and with ourselves, that creative positive physical and mental outcomes in the future. If we all do that, it will empower all of us together.

Broken bones will never go away, and we need hospitals for them! But a preventative wellness strategy, dealing with education, food security, housing… These will add up to big gains and improvements for all of us together.

7) What makes a good community?

People coming together and supporting one another, looking out for one another. Whether this is access to healthcare or an arena for hockey! Taking care of social services, ensuring viable businesses, good roads, safe parks… the community needs to see how helping each of these collectively helps all.

8) What makes a good MP?

First, a good understanding of the complex needs of healthcare, and an ability to deal with this complexity.

Second, open communication and easy access. Honesty and authenticity!

Third, credibility in circles they move in. Are they well-informed? Do they advocate and listen to their community? And can they balance their party allegiances with the needs of their riding and constituents?

Importantly: they need to be smart and savvy enough to understand a wide breadth of political issues, and be able to integrate them. Healthcare is extremely important, but it’s one of many important issues. A good MP understands these, but is open to dialogue with their community in ways that relate these issues to everyone.”

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Our baby son was born at Cambridge Memorial Hospital last September, 2018. It felt very surreal (and nostalgic!) walking through its halls again.