St. Joseph’s Health Centre puts a new face on board selection

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St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto is a community teaching hospital providing a range of services to over 500,000 people in the southwest Toronto area. In the fall of 2003, there were two vacant directors’ positions on the hospital’s board. When faced with the prospect of filling these positions, the board departed from its usual selection procedures. Instead of tapping into their existing network of colleagues, they chose instead to proactively approach local community groups to seek appropriate individuals for the positions.

According to Carol Perry, Board Chair St. Joseph’s Health Centre, “As a community teaching hospital we are somewhat unique in that we have a community focus and an academic element to what we offer. While in the past we have drawn on board members for referrals, we felt that going to the community would not only provide good candidates, but also help raise the hospital’s profile. The approach allowed us to tap into a broader pool of candidates who were interested in the opportunity to become more involved with their local hospital.”

St. Joseph’s approach to finding new board members reflects the many differences between hospital boards and their corporate counterparts. The role of hospital directors is unique. Members’ responsibilities extend beyond the standard corporate parameters of fiscal prudence and shareholder accountability. They also encompass the needs of community stakeholders and the various authors and administrators of healthcare policy. Now more than ever, hospital boards are required to work with political players, community groups and funding agencies to satisfy the needs of an increasingly diverse – and vocal – population.

While there remains a need for strong corporate expertise to manage operations and budgets, there are other non-traditional skill sets that are essential. In highly populated areas especially, the diversity of the community constituents and related needs requires a mastery of communication and political sensitivity. It requires an ear that can be attuned to the special considerations of sometimes dozens of user groups. Those skills, more often than not, come from individuals within the user community.

To find these individuals, St. Joseph’s began with the creation of a profile of directors required, outlining desired qualifications, background, skills and community affiliations. A call for candidate recommendations was then sent to 46 community organizations, including the Etobicoke and Toronto Community Access Care Centres, the Four Villages Community Health Centre and Copernicus Lodge. This list included the organizations that were most actively involved with the hospital, as well as those groups most likely to yield suitable candidates. A job posting was also placed in community newspapers, on hospital bulletin boards and in targeted hospital newsletters to patients, doctors and community organizations.

Through this process, St. Joseph’s was able to find eminently qualified candidates who could provide a unique community perspective. More than 40 candidates expressed interest in the board positions. The governance committee assigned to the selection task reviewed and evaluated all applications. The field was narrowed to 14 prospects for interviewing. Two new members were invited to join the board. John Spekkens and Barbara Franklin began their duties in September 2004.

John Spekkens is not only a member of the local community, he brings with him extensive experience in working with a variety of youth and mental health prevention and treatment services organizations. His work history includes a CEO position at Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, as well as an executive directorship with East Metro Youth Services, among other notable service organizations.

A denizen of the corporate world, Barbara Franklin is corporate counsel for an insurance company with a previous career in teaching. Her community involvement has been equally extensive, and includes years of work with multiple community groups, schools and healthcare organizations.

By opening the process to community organizations – as well as the community at large – St. Joseph’s Health Centre has broken new ground in board selection. In doing so they have provided an opportunity for people to raise their hand and offer their services to an institution they care about. In addition, they have opened the door for the community to become more acquainted with the St. Joseph’s board. The fact that they received a wealth of potential candidates from community outreach programs, hospitals, ministry branches and educational institutions is a testament to the interest and commitment of member communities to serve their healthcare organizations.