International Women’s Day: ‘There is nothing holding you back but your own fear’, says Surgery Director Penny Walcott, who gives candid interview on 41 years at MGH

International Women’s Day: ‘There is nothing holding you back but your own fear’, says Surgery Director Penny Walcott, who gives candid interview on 41 years at MGH

MAIN - Penny Walcott w Sarah Downey_4522Penny Walcott, Director of Surgery and Sarah Downey, President and CEO at MGH.

By: Sarah Downey, President and CEO

Women are rising up – 2017 marked an extraordinary year for women and men alike, speaking up and using their collective voices to influence and demand real social, economic, cultural and political changes.

With the rise of human equality movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, it’s important to continue these conversations on gender parity and inclusivity in all domains, be it at home, in the community or in the workplace.

While women make up approximately 75 per cent of the health workforce, often representation at higher levels of health leadership is limited. Today is International Women’s Day, and I wanted to pause and celebrate the remarkable achievements of the strong female healthcare leaders we’re fortunate to have right here at MGH.

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Penny Walcott, Director of Surgery, to reflect on her impressive career at this Hospital. Here is our conversation on leadership, career challenges, her experiences here as a woman of colour, and why she’s proud of the Hospital she’s chosen to call home for 41 years.

Sarah: With your retirement, it’s a sad time for us, but a happy time for you. Can you paint a picture of your 41-year career journey?

Penny: It was never a well thought out, straight-lined plan like people think. I came up here as a young, sweet thing from the Islands wanting to be an interpreter. My forte was foreign languages and I applied to the University of Toronto. There were a number of strikes at the time and I was unsure about job prospects when my sister said, “You can always be a nurse.”

I went into Centennial College’s first cohort of nursing school. I used to take the tunnel from the Ellen McClain School of Nursing into the hospital. In 1977 when I graduated there were no nursing jobs but since I had worked as a patient care assistant in the pool, the manager knew me and gave me a part-time job to help with summer relief.

I have been afforded the opportunity to make mistakes, make friends and I had my child here. I became known, learned of processes, served on committees, and developed interests over my 41 years here. I could not have been more satisfied in terms of challenges and opportunities.

Sarah: You made the transition from nurse to manager. Why did you make the choice to leave bedside nursing?

Penny: I had worked in several areas: Medicine which was 2 Southwest at the time; Emergency which was the highlight of my nursing career and shaped me as a leader, and Special Care Nursery. But I always knew I wanted to continue with my degree. I still wondered about interpretation but ultimately I went for administrative studies. There were aspects of accountability, flow, controls, plus budgetary responsibilities that were quite foreign. I recall speaking to the Chief of Anesthesia at the time, Dr. Noel Samahin, and I told him what I wanted to do. He said “You know what… that might actually be a really good idea.” And I thought, “Okay, I’m going for it then.”   

It was difficult at first to come out among my colleagues as a leader, but I led from the beginning with transparency. You may not always like, or agree with what I have to do, but you can understand why I need to do it.

Sarah: I think that characterizes your style very well.  What is one of your proudest career moments?  

Penny: After Recovery, I opened the first swing unit; it was on A2 and operated much like the Medical Short Stay Unit runs today. Then, I managed Outpatient Urology for a while. One of my proudest achievements was being a part of the leadership team that brought the first hemodialysis program to the hospital.  Having it come to fruition felt great – I can look back years later and say “I actually did that.”

I was selected as the first program manager, which looks different from today. It was very lonely being the first one. There was nothing to pattern yourself on yet. You had to go into it yourself and understand the principles you had to lead by, the relationships that you wanted to develop and pull on your deepest instincts.

Sarah: What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Penny: My style is to know the people you work with and where they’ve come from.  When you have to make personnel changes, it’s someone’s life you’re impacting.  When I make these decisions, I have thought them through. I need to feel like I can stand up in front of that person and tell them that there was no other alternative. I have not targeted them or their job; this was something necessary for the survival of the organization. It’s the most challenging and painful part of the job. Then you have to continue on, build and reinforce what’s left.

Sarah: What does the future of surgery look like?

Penny: For Michael Garron, we’ve had to deal with being a small fish in a big pond over the past several years.  We’re focused on deep partnerships in Surgery which make us indispensable, but at the same time, we still have to do the full range of services to remain a general community hospital. This will become more and more challenging.

A model for this kind of work is seen in thoracic surgery. As a cohesive group, the team has come together to demonstrate strong relationships internally and externally; they set out ambitious and deliberate long-term plans; they have developed a broad range of specialties among the team but they share and cross-train each other with each contribution. It’s a very collegial atmosphere. We should continue to harness this collaborative approach across the organization.

Sarah: What factors do you attribute to your success?

Penny:  Forgiveness. As you go further into the organization, you have fewer people to bounce ideas off of.  You need to own up when something goes wrong.  There is no shame in making a mistake; there is shame in doing it twice.  The ability to think through an idea with someone is crucial. I have valued this with all the Vice Presidents I’ve had. You can talk to them without judgement and they challenge you to fix it.  I’ve felt this with the Surgical group too.

Sarah: Is there anyone in particular that has helped you in your career that you’re thinking about now as you approach retirement?

Penny: I’ve had a lot of people help me through the years. They may not have been formal mentors, but people who listen and acknowledge the road I was on was challenging. These are the times you grow and develop the most. I have family, friends and other community organizations I’m a part of that have helped me. Carmine Stumpo is turning out to be a pretty darn good vice president, too.

When I receive pushback on something, by virtue of the pushback black people have faced collectively in society, racial motivation is always in the back of everyone’s mind. I don’t want to attribute every point of opposition I face to racism because that makes me powerless. And I’m not powerless.

Sarah: What are some of your final thoughts to your colleagues?

Penny: This organization has been an extremely positive work environment. I have nothing but good things to say about the opportunities given to me. Every time I’ve succeeded, I’ve received adequate credit. I like the leanness of this organization, although there are days when it’s challenging. The leanness gives you autonomy and authority to think much more widely than your job description might. You need cohesiveness and sense of family to make sure everyone, every department survives, not just surgery.

And I want to send a special message to the people of colour at this organization. There is nothing holding you back if you are a person of colour at Michael Garron Hospital. In my experience, this Hospital has proven to be more than willing to support you in becoming the person you’re capable of becoming.

You should approach any challenge with the attitude of “let me see if I can do it with the help of the people around me.” Don’t let anyone hold you back because of their perceptions or anyone else’s experiences. There is nothing holding you back but your own fear.

Sarah: I want to personally thank Penny for her extraordinary leadership, invigorating the organization with compassion and honesty, and dedicating her career to our community. She has accomplished so much and leaves an exceptional legacy behind. You will be missed, Penny!

Learn more about International Women’s Day, here.

 

Redevelopment marks major milestone: “We’re creating more than just a building; we’re creating a community hub at the heart of east Toronto.”

Redevelopment marks major milestone: “We’re creating more than just a building; we’re creating a community hub at the heart of east Toronto.”

By: Robert Orr, VP Redevelopment
 
I am very pleased to announce that Michael Garron Hospital and EllisDon Infrastructure Healthcare (EDIH) achieved Financial Close on Tuesday, February 6, 2018. This is no doubt the largest single contract in our 89 year history.
 

Sarah Downey, President and CEO and Mark Trachuk, MGH Board Chair signing the Project Agreement
 

This milestone marks the end of a long provincial procurement process and the beginning of construction of our new building. Construction startup will not be immediate as there are many initial site works projects to complete, including installing a new oxygen concentrator and rerouting the main hospital sewer pipes before they can begin “the big dig” (excavation for our underground parking). Preparations for the big dig should begin summer 2018, however further details will follow as EllisDon develops their schedule.

 

We’re building more than just another building

Today, we launch into a new phase with our partners EllisDon Infrastructure Healthcare and Infrastructure Ontario.
 

Artistic rendering looking southwest at Michael Garron Hospital (image subject to change)
 

EDIH’s corporate slogan “we build on great relationships” really complements our corporate vision to “Create Health, Build Community”. Together, we’ll be creating more than just a building – we’ll be creating a community hub at the heart of east Toronto. As Sarah Downey said in today’s press release:
 
“…Once complete, our facility will have more single patient bedrooms, consolidated clinic spaces, lush community gardens, and a large retail area off the main lobby. The design will also incorporate architectural elements which welcome diversity, harness natural light and facilitate a positive patient and family experience. I’m so proud of this project as well as the teams that worked tirelessly to get us here and look forward to all the benefits this project will bring to the future of care at Michael Garron Hospital.”
 

What Happens Next?

Now that the contract has been signed, EllisDon Infrastructure Healthcare will begin preparations for construction. Initial site works will get underway immediately and major construction should commence in summer 2018.
 
At the same time, EllisDon’s architect will begin final Design Development with our various stakeholders; creating the final set of drawings that will be used to build our building. This phase will help guide and inform the details of every space – from furniture and equipment to fixtures and finishes. This refinement phase runs until October and will include another round of mock-up rooms for staff, physicians, volunteers, patients, families and community members to tour and provide feedback.
 
Thank you to everyone who has dedicated their time and efforts to help us achieve this important milestone in our Hospital’s history. I look forward to bringing you more updates in the coming months.
 

MGH Let’s Listen: “People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”

MGH Let’s Listen: “People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”

In September 2010, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began a new conversation about mental health in Canada. ‘MGH Let’s Listen’ is a Hospital series dedicated to listening to the stories of healthcare providers and community leaders working and caring for people experiencing mental health issues in the Canadian healthcare system.

Elder Little Brown Bear Sovereign Medal cropElder Little Brown Bear (left) was recognized for his Outstanding Indigenous Leadership and presented with the Sovereign Medal on January 28, 2018 by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

As an Indigenous Elder, I truly believe we need to change the wording from “mental health” to “mental well-being”.

Mental health as we know it has a negative connotation. You are sometimes looked upon as being “crazy”, looked at differently, or even judged. We need to look at what’s underneath and what is felt by our community members – and I call them ‘community members’ versus client’s or patients; even being referred to as a “patient” or “client” can have a negative association in our culture.

In the news, we often here about how much money is being spent on addictions and mental health. My question is around why there is no money for trauma or traumatic issues. In the Aboriginal Healing Program, we explore all three and the first is trauma, then addictions and mental well-being.

Trauma is the driver of a lot of issues for community members, and if those issues are not addressed, more often than not they turn to mood-altering substances to escape and numb the pain; continuous use results in mental well-being issues.

For some, addiction drives mental well-being issues, and for others, the mental well-being issues drives addiction – but they are still left with the trauma, which is the initial driver of all of this.

The use of our sacred medicines tobacco, cedar, sweet grass, sage and lavender, help community members on their healing paths and address trauma or traumatic issues. It’s really interesting when they get on their healing journeys, and in time, find they no longer need mood altering substances to cope and the diagnoses they were given for depression or anxiety is no longer there.

My philosophy is but a simple one “people don’t care how much you know however they want to know how much you care.”

Mental well-being from an Aboriginal perspective

For Aboriginal people, understanding that we have choices on our healing journey is empowering. It gives us strength to keep going even when we fall down. There is no time limit on a healing journey; there is no pressure to complete the program in 21 or 28 days. Time limits create stress and can make a person feel hopeless or a lost cause if you are not healed or cured in that short time. While a Western model is based more on hierarchy, we work in circles where everyone is equal; disconnection creates pain.

What we really need is a place to heal the hurt. The definition of what hurt means – of what trauma means – needs to be left up to the individual and worked through with the Elder. We each contribute to each other’s healing. The Aboriginal Community comes together for “Healing”.

Aboriginal Healing Program, ‘a place where you can be honest’

 The Aboriginal Healing Program helps community members find a peaceful, loving atmosphere – a place you can be honest and fully accepted as you are. It’s a safe space to get guidance on your healing journey.

It’s a place that teaches us to heal through laughter. We learn that “teasing” is okay because it shows our brother and sisters we love them and that it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves.

We learn about the medicine wheel and grandfather teachings. We learn that every living being has a reason and a purpose for being here; we learn to tap into our spiritual selves and find our centre.

It’s a place that doesn’t leave you alone to work through your healing. It teaches us mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being and that these are all related. This place helps us find who we are, (medicines men, pipe carriers, clan mothers) so we can pass teachings on to the next seven generations.

We learn about respect for ourselves, our brothers and sisters and everything around us.

‘People helping people – the more we bring together, the stronger the healing becomes’

Service providers would benefit from having a better understanding of who we are as Aboriginal people, our culture, traditions and our way of life; educating healthcare professionals on these healing needs would make us feel more valued and respected.

“People helping people” – the more people we bring together in healing, the stronger the healing becomes. We need more respect for the traditional medicines and healers and medicine people so that pharmaceutical is not the first go-to option. Often medications cover the problem, but don’t create healing.

Non- traditional vs. medicine are different, but both are equal. Sweat lodges are serious and completely confidential places of healing and detoxing of not just the body, but of the psyche, spiritual, emotional being. We need the system to recognize this as a valid form of healing. Also pow wow’s, drumming, beading, feast – these all bring people together to heal and out of their isolation and detriment.

We need places that focus on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing like the Aboriginal Healing Program. Our connection to this place is what helps us continue to live a good life; staying connected after we have completed the program. Family is important, community is important.

We need people to shift their understanding of mental illness; it is not a reason to look down on a person. This needs to be reflected in the courts to avoid hierarchical and unforgiving spaces that pose barriers to healing. It is important to recognize and give credit to the work and progress a person makes to walk and be in a good way as opposed to focusing on past actions.

Healing under one sky,

Elder Little Brown Bear

MGH Let’s Listen: “We need to be at our best when our patients visit us at their worst. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes today to pause, talk and listen. ”

MGH Let’s Listen: “We need to be at our best when our patients visit us at their worst. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes today to pause, talk and listen. ”

In September 2010, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began a new conversation about mental health in Canada. ‘MGH Let’s Listen’ is a Hospital series dedicated to listening to the stories of healthcare providers working and caring for patients experiencing mental health issues in the Canadian healthcare system.

6LqP54Yl_400x400

By: Carmine Stumpo, Vice President, Programs at Michael Garron Hospital

My name is Carmine Stumpo and I am the Vice President, Programs at Michael Garron Hospital. I’ve had the privilege of working here for more than 20 years, with many different teams across the organization.  Every day provides new challenges and I am inspired by the stories of our staff, physicians and volunteers working to make a difference in the community we serve.

Bell Let’s Talk reminds us how important it is to talk and I would like to share a few thoughts on supporting mental health within healthcare.

Read the full #MGHLetsListen series:
Cheryl Nelson-Singh, Clinical Resource Leader: The impact of social, self-stigma
Lois Didyk, Social Worker: Mental health in marginalized communities
Sarah Bingler, Occupational Therapist: The power of self-care

‘We need to talk it out – and more importantly, we need to listen’

We know healthcare is hard work. We need to be at our best when our patients visit us at their worst.  We need to be compassionate and kind in our approach even when we ourselves are having a bad day. How do we manage this? We need to talk it out and more importantly, we need to listen. I would like to share a few examples of this.

I am very proud of the work we do at MGH for workplace violence prevention.  Despite all our best efforts, our staff still are victims of physical and verbal abuse. It is so important to be able to talk about fears, anxiety and distress openly. It is our job to listen to the people who may have been victims of workplace violence. We will continue to look for ways to make our workplace safer, but it starts with creating a culture where we can talk about these and other stresses.  I try as best I can to create an environment where people feel it is OK to share their concerns and as an organization, we listen.

‘We are never alone in the work we do’

Healthcare today also means making tough choices.  This leaves people at all levels of the organization wondering if they made the right decisions, wishing they could do more or worrying will they be criticized for the choices they made.  The discomfort of having to make these decisions every day can weigh very heavily on individuals to the point of burnout.  I find reaching out to a colleague or friend to talk it out helps me get perspective.

As much as we are busy trying to “fix” everything wrong in the system, sometimes we just need to hit the “pause” button, and just talk.  We are never alone in the work we do and talking to others reminds us of the strength we have together.

I continue to support Bell Let’s Talk for so many reasons and I encourage everyone to take a few minutes today to pause, talk and listen.

Related
Access mental health services at MGH – Family Support Program
Boosting mental health in young children: Interview with Dr. Krista Lemke

MGH Let’s Listen: “It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

MGH Let’s Listen: “It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

In September 2010, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began a new conversation about mental health in Canada. ‘MGH Let’s Listen‘ is a Hospital series dedicated to listening to the stories of healthcare providers working and caring for patients experiencing mental health issues in the Canadian healthcare system.

Cheryl Nelson_4112 400p

By: Cheryl Nelson-Singh, Clinical Resource Leader, Emergency Department  

Over the years, I have witnessed close friends experience the effects of social-stigma and self-stigma as a result of mental health illness.

I have stayed on the phone, into the wee hours of the morning comforting a friend, sat at the bedside in a locked down unit on a mental health ward with another, and most recently attended the funeral of a third friend who unfortunately decided to end their life.

Behind closed doors

At first glance, one would never assume that these individuals were living with a “mental health issue”. They appeared to be successful in their careers, surrounded by a plethora of friends, and were always willing to lend a helping hand to others.

However, behind closed doors laid loneliness, hopelessness, and fear. The stressors in their lives became too much to bear. They continually felt pressured to look perfect. They were too afraid to seek help for fear of looking weak, unstable and incapable.

Laughing, talking, sharing

It’s important to have an outlet to let people talk and express frustrations, or share a good laugh. How? I try to do activities I think are enjoyable and meaningful. I like to volunteer with different charitable organizations. I try to eat healthy (most of the time!), and spend time with family and loved ones.

It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Eliminating the sting of stigma is the first step in creating a supportive, healthy network.

Related
#MGHLetsListen: Lois Didyk, Community Social Worker, shares her story
#MGHLetsListen: Sarah Bingler, Occupational Therapist, shares her story

MGH Let’s Listen: “People still use words like ‘crazy’ and ‘unstable’. Mental illness is portrayed as being a negative personal trait rather than an illness.”

MGH Let’s Listen: “People still use words like ‘crazy’ and ‘unstable’. Mental illness is portrayed as being a negative personal trait rather than an illness.”

In September 2010, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began a new conversation about mental health in Canada. ‘MGH Let’s Listen’ is a Hospital series dedicated to listening to the stories of healthcare providers working and caring for patients experiencing mental health issues in the Canadian healthcare system.

Sarah Bingler_4078 400p

By: Sarah Bingler, Occupational Therapist, Michael Garron Hospital

My name is Sarah and I’ve worked at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) as an Occupational Therapist for 17 years. My grandparents played an important role in my life as a child, and as a result, I have a deep value and respect for the elderly. As an occupational therapist working with older adults, I have the opportunity to help acutely ill seniors have improved quality of life.

‘Someone I loved was in pain and I couldn’t fix it’

This month, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign is a humbling reminder of how mental health impacts all of us. Mental illness is often portrayed as being a negative personal trait rather than an illness; I think people are reluctant to share their personal mental health issues from a fear of being judged in a negative way.

People use words like ”crazy” and “unstable” casually in conversation or they label someone as having “anger management issues”. This contributes to stigma and is still a big issue for those living with mental health conditions.

I have a close family member who has been diagnosed with a serious depressive illness. As a health care provider, it was really hard for me because someone I loved was in pain and I wasn’t in control and I couldn’t fix it. I realized that the best way for me to help was with simple things like a phone call, offering to go for a walk or an invitation to dinner. I often find visiting my family member emotionally draining so I try to make sure that I schedule some quiet time by myself to recharge afterwards with a little reading or Netflix.

IMG_1646
(From left to right): Courtney Grey, Sarah Bingler and Liz Berger finish the Olympic distance Toronto triathlon in 2017.

Mental health and the power of self-care

Being physically active is a great stress release for me. I run a few times a week and I find working up a sweat in the outdoors to be very therapeutic. To help me stay motivated, I sign up for a few organized runs or triathlons throughout the year and have started swimming and biking.

The Wellness programming at MGH has been lifesaver for me. Having fitness equipment and classes at work allows me to fit in a workout on my busiest of days. Within the rehab group we often do workouts together and support each other in meeting fitness goals and trying new events. Over the years we have done many runs together with various members of the group.  Last year one of my coworkers (Courtney Grey) and I trained and completed an Olympic distance triathlon together!

The work that we do every day in healthcare is incredibly demanding on a physical, mental and emotional level. We need to recognize this stress and create an inclusive environment where we can share our experiences and support each other.

Related
#MGHLetsListen: Lois Didyk, Community Social Worker, shares her story

#MGHLetsListen: Mental health stigma – “Some people are left out of these conversations – and usually, they have the most at stake”

#MGHLetsListen: Mental health stigma – “Some people are left out of these conversations – and usually, they have the most at stake”

In September 2010, ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ began a new conversation about mental health in Canada. ‘MGH Let’s Listen’ is a Hospital series dedicated to listening to the stories of healthcare providers working and caring for patients experiencing mental health issues in the Canadian healthcare system.

Lois Didyk_3964 c 16x9 700p

By: Lois Didyk, Community Social Worker at Michael Garron Hospital

My name is Lois Didyk and I’m a social worker.

I have been working for the past 28 years as a Community Mental Health Counsellor with Michael Garron Hospital’s (MGH) Community Outreach Services. I love working with people and helping them to be more than their diagnosis.

Over the course of my career, I’ve heard a lot about mental health stigma; but none of this made much of a difference in the lives of the people I worked with. And these are the people I’m most concerned about when we talk about reducing mental health stigma – those who are marginalized or most vulnerable because of their mental health issues.

Mental health stigma in marginalized communities

While talking is good, let’s recognize that some of us benefit more from talking about mental health stigma than others. I could tell you about my own experiences with anxiety and panic, but that doesn’t change the lived realities of the people I work with, and those marginalized by their mental health struggles. While we may be drawn to some stories more than others, it’s really important to notice that some people are left out of these conversations. These are usually the people with the most at stake.

As with all good conversations, listening is just as important as talking. What are our most marginalized community members saying about their mental health struggles and what will help?

‘They want compassionate responses that confirm that they matter’

I hear people saying that their mental health struggles are intertwined with so many other issues. This includes living in poverty, being homeless or waiting five to eight years on housing lists, precarious work, dealing with racism and/or homophobia, lack of opportunity for new immigrants, access to healthcare, trauma, social exclusion, etc. I also hear people saying that not everybody receives the same fair treatment. For example, our black and indigenous communities tell us that they are often treated as ‘dangerous’ in relation to their mental health experiences, leading to disproportionate rates of incarceration, criminalization and police violence.

I also hear people saying that they want to be supported – not directed – in their healing and recovery. They want options, including non-medical ones that are relevant to them, and designed with them; they want compassionate responses that confirm that they matter.

‘Recovery from mental health issues is possible, recovery from stigma is harder’

As a mental health social worker, I’ve learned that dealing with stigma means looking at the bigger picture and the context of people’s lives. I’ve also learned that people can be more than their diagnosis, and that recovery from mental health issues is possible – it’s recovery from mental health stigma that is harder.

That’s because mental health stigma is about more than just how we think about people with mental health issues; it’s also about how our social and institutional practices reinforce it. Stamping out mental health stigma requires us to look at how our actions and policies hurt certain people more than others.

So, yes, let’s keep talking about mental health, let’s talk about the stigma, and let’s talk about what feeds it. Most importantly, we need to be making changes so that all of us, including those who are most marginalized and vulnerable, are benefitting from these conversations in real ways.