It’s been one year since Dr. Gary Newton stepped into his new role as President and CEO of Sinai Health System. We sat down with Gary to get his perspective on the past 12 months and the top five things he’s learned.
1) What surprised you this year?
Sinai Health System is bigger than I thought! Individually we tended to think of ourselves as small organizations, but even before we amalgamated, we weren’t really that small. I am struck every time I walk into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai, the beautiful Circle of Care headquarters at Yonge and the 401 and their fleet of minivans, the entire campus at Bridgepoint, and our expansive research facilities at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute – it all seems to go on forever!
Sinai Health System is also more distinctive than we think. Our approach is very comprehensive, well planned and carefully executed. The health-care landscape is full of false starts –great initiatives that don’t go beyond pilot projects. We don’t want to do that. The model we are now living is to take the time up front and re-calibrate timelines if we need to, so that we set ourselves up for success. For example, Bryna Rabishaw, our Vice President of Operational Readiness, started creating her team to assure our clinical success in our new spaces over a year before we broke ground on Phase 3A of Renew Sinai. This level of attention to detail and planning can feel frustrating, but I wouldn’t do it any other way – it’s the new “Sinai Health way”!
2) What did you learn about leadership?
There is the job, and there is the role. The job is clear – I am accountable for our clinical and financial deliverables to the public and our academic and research mandates. We have an amazing leadership team that makes all of this possible, and regularly makes me look good! But the role is where I have really grown. As a leader, those moments with staff, patients, families in line for coffee, in the elevator, walking down the hall, is really extraordinary. Having one of our staff explain to me the process of stripping and cleaning our floors over a weekend to be ready on Monday, and the pride in getting that job done – that’s never captured in the job itself. People approach me all of the time, either to express their disappointment in something, or their excitement about a new initiative or clinical outcome. These are the moments that I am reminded that there is just no better place to work.
3) What’s the biggest challenge you encountered?
My days are never predictable, even my hours aren’t that predictable! I can be in a meeting about a serious clinical risk and then go right into meeting about funding. I don’t have the luxury of letting emotions and focus from one meeting carry over to the next. I think that as a clinician I’ve been well prepared to establish distance between those moments, we do it all the time when we see patients, but still, it’s a skill that I have to be mindful of.
4) What are you most proud of?
There have been so many successes this year – that belong to everybody in our organization. I would say that one of the highlights was certainly Accreditation. The process of getting there was so meticulous. And the achievement is really not that we became exemplary, but that our processes reflected an already existing standard of excellence in providing safe and quality care. There has also been outstanding work on our transformative agenda. Our collaborations across organizations – bringing Circle of Care social workers to our hospitals, having physicians work across campuses, establishing organizational multi-year Quality Aims, these are just a few of our accomplishments. We have all achieved so much this year, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone throughout Sinai Health System that made it happen.
5) Biggest take-away from this past year
As a physician it was probably a bit too easy for me to dismiss the challenges of our health-care system with cynicism. Wait times, transitions of care, access to medications, impact of social determinants of health – we all see the obstacles our patients face every day, and it can be very disappointing as clinicians. Having spent the year working closely with all of you, our peer institutions and partners, and government, it is clear that our health-care system is made up of incredibly smart, innovative people who deeply want to do the right thing for our patients. But our system and our sector are breathtakingly complex and improvement and transformation takes time. It may be easy for me to sit at my desk and get excited about a new initiative, but it truly takes a village to move an idea to reality. I feel that’s what we are doing here, working to improve the patient journey and providing a model for the health care system as a whole.