The West Nipissing General Hospital saw a major change on Monday, January 9th when new CEO Sue LeBeau took over duties from the outgoing CEO, Cynthia Desormiers. After over 30 years with the organisation, Desormiers calls adjusting to retirement “surreal,” but she is confident that the hospital is in good hands.
LeBeau brings with her a varied resumé, built over a long career in healthcare, much of it in Northern Ontario. “The area is well known to me. After I graduated from nursing, I went and worked in North Bay and worked in a whole bunch of places. I became a Nurse practitioner, in independent practice, and worked at the Centre de santé communautaire in Sudbury. I worked at Laurentian University. I taught at University of Ottawa in the NP (Nurse Practitioner) program, and in Moncton. I did a lot of that right from North Bay because you could do a lot of distance stuff. I taught at Boréal here actually; I taught some RPNs (Registered Practical Nurse) many years ago – then just progressive leadership roles in a number of organisations. I had my own business where I employed a dozen nurses to do sexual assault nurse examiner interventions at North Bay Regional, and worked at North Bay Regional myself in many management roles. Then, on to the LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) for a couple of years as Director of Quality and Risk. And then off to Red Lake for 3-and-a-half years where I had all kinds of adventures as a hospital CEO there,” she describes her career.
Indeed, her last job as CEO of the hospital in Red Lake had her dealing with two hospital evacuations due to forest fires, road closures due to flooding, and then a global pandemic. Sue LeBeau can handle a crisis.
LeBeau says one thing that drew her to the WNGH is the idea of coming home. While she grew up in Chelmsford, she has roots in the community of Sturgeon Falls. “My dad is from here; he grew up here. I remember spending time here as a kid at my grandmother’s. We have a big family so Sturgeon was kind of the nexus, if you will, for the Chartrand family.”
The size of the WNGH was a draw for her as well. While the WNGH is bigger than the hospital in Red Lake, it is still a smaller, rural hospital. “You get to know the staff and each other, and the physicians and the patients. I like that idea of working in a smaller community and integrating work life with home life; just being a member of the community that you serve.”
Monday’s CEO changeover was seemingly a long-time coming. The announcement that Cynthia Desormiers was retiring came months ago, however she gave those 6 months of advance notice in order to provide plenty of time to recruit someone capable for the job. “It does take a long time to do proper recruitment,” notes Desormiers, adding that she got the chance to meet with Lebeau a few times before handing her the reins, and has confidence in the new CEO.
When asked about the timing of the transition with COVID, Desormiers says that the timing for these things is never really good, but she’s not worried. “We have a really solid team. We have great plans in place, great policies and procedures. We’ve practiced and planned to the Nth degree,” she relates of the hospital staff’s preparedness in handling any current and future crises. LeBeau assured a smooth transition, stating that she and Desormiers met a few times throughout the fall, so she would know “the lay of the land, and could hit the ground running here.”
COVID will not be the only challenge LeBeau is bound to face, but she’s well prepared. “What’s interesting is that I was right at the other end of Ontario, but the problems and the challenges are the same. [In] Northern Ontario, it’s staffing, health human resources big time, physician resources included, and finance; same problems across Northwestern Ontario as well. So that was all very familiar,” she explains. LeBeau deplores the gaps in physician availability in rural northern communities, as well as a shortage in generalists and family practices. She mentions nursing shortages which were predicted since before the pandemic, and which COVID accelerated. She does expect that the increase in seats at both medical and nursing schools will eventually help with the shortages. “There are provincial programs, like new-grad initiatives, for nurses and so forth, and some incentives to support nurses for coming, but what that looks like at a local level – that’s new territory for me.”
While attempting to attract new staff will take some time to figure out, LeBeau does seem to have a firm grasp on the importance of keeping current staff happy. While settling into her new role, she conducted rounds, meeting with staff one-on-one. “I think, locally, keeping staff feeling valued and appreciated and engaged and wanting to stay, to me, is a measure of success. Do they want to bring their friends? Do they want their kids to come and work with us eventually? Do they recommend us as an employer? I think it’s been positive; we see that we have a lot of long-tenure staff, and that tells a story about this hospital that’s very positive and we want to continue that,” she explains, stressing the importance of maintaining a positive work culture.