Catherine Gaulton: Absolute Optimism for the Year Ahead

Cover art for episode 50 of Healthcare Change Makers with Catherine Gaulton. Photo of Catherine on the image.

In our final episode of 2022, CEO Catherine Gaulton shares a preview of what’s to come in the new year – things like HIROC’s new strategic plan and the launch of a new start-up known as Collaborative Benefits (Co). 

Show Summary

Marking Healthcare Change Maker’s 50th episode, we’re in the mood to celebrate. HIROC CEO Catherine Gaulton and Director of Communications and Marketing, Philip De Souza jump right in celebrating the podcast, and HIROC’s 35th anniversary. 

Team HIROC is also celebrating a brand-new strategic plan, launching in 2023. Catherine previews what Subscribers can expect to see as a focus – topics like HHR and board education.

Also on the horizon, HIROC and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) are collaborating on the launch of a brand-new start-up – Collaborative Benefits, simply known as Co. The two partners came together to determine the viability and approach for a universal provincial employee benefits strategy – co-designed by healthcare, for healthcare. 

With so many new initiatives coming in 2023, Catherine is also cognizant of self-care – that of her staff and everyone working in the healthcare system, including leaders. 

Before we let her go, Philip asks Catherine what gives her joy. Hearing her family play music, and seeing little kids pop up on Zoom meetings are just a few of the things that make her laugh and smile. 

Mentioned in this Episode


Imagine you could step inside the minds of Canada's healthcare leaders, glimpse their greatest fears, strongest drivers and what makes them tick. Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast where we talk to leaders about the joys and challenges of driving change and working with partners, to create the safest healthcare system.

Philip De Souza: Hello listeners, it's Phillip De Souza here from HIROC and we've a special episode of Healthcare Change Makers today with our CEO Catherine Gaulton. Welcome Catherine.

Catherine Gaulton: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Philip De Souza: And we're so lucky actually a bunch of milestones with this particular episode. One, this is our 50th episode. Can you believe it, Catherine, 50 episodes.

Catherine Gaulton: Wow. Well I was thinking of just what monumental year it is for HIROC, but that's also a great achievement.

Philip De Souza: That's the other milestone. Thank you for your segue into that. This year also marks HIROC's 35th year in operations, so that's a fantastic milestone as well.

Catherine Gaulton: Yes it is. And really, really great proof of concept. And as you know, if we hadn't been thinking that it was the right thing to do before, this last three years have really proven just well is the ultimate proof of concept for HIROC and so it's good. It's good we're around.

Philip De Souza: Definitely. Definitely. And last night we had a meeting, I was with Catherine and she also told me that this is a milestone for her personally. I think you've told me it's your 35th anniversary this year with your husband David.

Catherine Gaulton: I know all the stars aligned, years married, years that HIROC has been around. It is. It was my 35th wedding anniversary just in November.

Philip De Souza: Oh, congratulations. It's great you got married the year HIROC was born.

Catherine Gaulton: I know. Isn't it? Isn't that unreal? Who knew at the time? I don't know that I knew that insurance existed as a concept as a 20, 25 or so year old person. I don't think I had thought about insurance just yet. So.

Philip De Souza: Well it's a great year of milestones and so let's get to it Catherine. Can you share a story about a subscriber interaction this year that made you walk away smiling?

Catherine Gaulton: Yeah, you know me, there are always 12 stories to every question because I think I have and enjoy a great relationship with subscribers. But being in Newfoundland. Interesting, right. In Newfoundland there for partnership meetings with our subscribers and at the same time my father's in the hospital in the place where we're or had just been in the hospital in the place where we're meeting and hearing they really are too many stories. But the number of times that something from HIROC had really helped. And a few examples but I'll do them quickly. One, of a hearing that we had people, seniors in long-term care who needed help from the hospital in their environment very quickly.

And this conversation about that risk would normally mean having an agreement, having the insurance and the indemnifications figured out and just the ability to proceed to take care of seniors at the same time is not ignoring risk, not looking at what needed to be taken care of in that environment, particularly around clarity around who's doing what but that you can do all of that and look after risk while at the same time just really being very responsive and saying, "Well, what trumps?" And what trumps of course is care of seniors and I think in this instance. And so just the ability to respond to that and to then get the feedback from that was just huge. But we went to Yukon this year and great stories there and Edmonton and Labrador and St. John's and Nova Scotia last week with a subscriber there. Anyway, take the whole time, I'm going to stop but there are fantastic stories. But the stories that say, and there are lots of them, you allowed us to get to care of people, make me just smile. They make me grin every day.

Philip De Souza: Oh that's fantastic to hear. That's great. And we often ask subscriber leaders, Catherine, what keeps them up at night. So I guess taking all those positive stories, interactions you've had this year, what were two or three things for you that kind of kept you up at night?

Catherine Gaulton: Yeah, and so look, I'll say if it keeps our subscribers up, it keeps me up. Very driven in my career. And I think most HIROC people, if not all HIROC people come from the same place about truly making a difference and caring about those that we ultimately serve. Which means taking care of people who are serving them. So our frontline people, absolutely those who have direct inter interface with patients but also leaders because I think they have to care about everybody else and sometimes it's not really clear who's in the business of caring about them.

And so I worry about that. I worry about the extent that you get a lot of fatigue in looking after the inches of everyone else. And while we need everybody working in this system, and that includes leaders. So when I stay, if I wake up at night, I think about whether we're doing enough on that side, whether we're looking after leaders because they'll be the, I don't know, there was some, there's one province that called leaders the clipboard crew. And it was so disrespectful and this is years ago, thank goodness, I don't think anybody, I hope nobody's in this place anymore. But the compassion and strength of our leaders in the system is absolutely integral to how it is we then deliver on what we need to for patients. 

And so I worry that we don't focus there enough and then we need to start doing that the next day and that's how I don't wake up the next night.

Philip De Souza: Yeah, absolutely. No, I totally agree. Ensuring that leaders are supported and the challenge, many challenges that they face, that they're equipped and that's so critical. I absolutely agree with you. So HIROC is launching a renewed strategic plan just January, building on the amazing plan that you, our subscribers helped us create from 2020 to now. So what can subscribers expect to see as the central points of focus?

Catherine Gaulton: Yeah, so you need to think about what's your core and that your core continues throughout your strategic plan. So I mean that as pieces of work that we do every day, but the principle base that we operate from. So the principle of really being a critical part and a critical support for how our subscribers deliver on patient safety, on quality of care will remain an absolute cornerstone. We know that a lot of that this year will need to be focused around how we're supporting our health human resources, how we're appropriately deploying them. Likewise the focus on service, lots of exciting stuff, a great program of education for boards, a Risk Residency Program that will continue to go.

A provider interface that will make it easier for our subscribers to get their own information to participate in education programs. Those will all really be launched this year. And I'll say in the stream of thinking about looking after people, ensuring that they are supported and are challenged so that they're excited about their careers, that's also a strain. So looking after our people because we know or they're looking after or supporting our subscribers is really crucial. So we have a bit of a focus on that. But I think subscribers will see a focus on more direct supports on actioning patient safety and looking at the science of implementation of patient safety. And frankly we'll need to hear a lot more from subscribers about how our support in relation to health human resource shows itself.

Philip De Souza: So on top of everything else we've just talked about, some of you may not be aware, but that a small dedicated team from both HIROC and the Ontario Hospital Association, the OHA, have also launched a brand new startup called Co, Collaborative Benefits this year. So why don't you tell listeners a little bit about this very unique initiative.

Catherine Gaulton: Absolutely. So this is under our company HIROC Management Limited. About four years ago now, the OHA, our really close partners for our Ontario work, did some work to think about what was the most beneficial way, so hired and survey did lots of discovery around some of the issues that we were seeing in delivery of health benefits, so health and dental, long-term disability in life as the core ones. And a bit of a cycle of increasing cost of course without necessarily having an improvement in the overall benefit structure. And then a cycle of negotiation, getting good rates and then having that not be sustainable necessarily over the course of contracts over the course of time. And so subscribers, in the case of HIROC Management Limited and members in the case of the OHA had asked us to work together to try and develop a program.

A lot of work has been done, lots of data gathering and of course with the pandemic coming in the midst of all of this, some delay in really getting to this. So we're really thrilled that we have launched a separate federally incorporated company to manage this program. We are at the crux point of really determining where the current interest level is for this and it's very strong and then going to market to get the best program that we can for those participants. So we're very excited about that. It's a bit off the stream of what we've been doing as work, but yet it's entirely in the stream in that our work of course is to do what we can for people not-for-profit entities that are delivering on healthcare in this country. And if that means supporting them in benefits which are for our people, then it's not really off course. It's just a little jog and so big work, but a little jog. So we're very excited about that.

Philip De Souza: Definitely more than a little jog,

Catherine Gaulton: But this is how our lives go and it's the exciting thing about it. And I talk about challenge for people and for systems and I think it's the pieces and innovation are really the fuel of what... And having a principle that we're searching and a purpose we're searching to achieve is. So innovation and change for a purpose is I think crucial to how we deliver on this system, but also how we're fulfilled in our lives.

Philip De Souza: Oh absolutely. I just think back to how HIROC even started 35 years ago. That was kind of the unheard of thing, like a reciprocal for healthcare organizations. And when I tell people, oh we're in working, you, leading in, working to create this new startup, they're like, "What, a company?" That's true innovation 35 years later still innovating, still thinking outside the box, still doing something that others would not have even put on their bingo card that HIROC and OHA was starting a startup in its 35th year.

Catherine Gaulton: It's true. I was having a conversation with Greg King who's been with HIROC for so many years and so therefore is a big keeper of our history. And we were talking about... So tough year financially obviously, but with where investments have gone because of all the things, the market, inflation, the war in Ukraine and yet we're of course on this really fantastically stable financial path and we were talking about what were the financial underpinnings in 1986. And I'll tell you had run for the hills. And yet this group of people had the vision to say it actually will be great and it will address the needs of so many people in Ontario at the time. And so many the institutions in Ontario and now beyond.

So I agree, it's scary, it looks massive and of course it is. All of these things are but with the benefit of retrospect in which we have for HIROC. You're so happy that people were willing to take a chance. It's great.

Philip De Souza: Hundred percent. It definitely warms my heart too. I'm making a slight pivot to that. With respect to HIROC. This year HIROC is named again a top GTA employer and this is our seventh year in a row. So how does that make you feel?

Catherine Gaulton: So look, it makes me feel great. I think this is a phenomenal place to work. I think we attract just amazing people. We keep amazing people who have been with us for a very long time. And in some ways I think you could say, "Well okay, we keep doing that because we're great." Well of course we are. But I think we keep doing that because we actually don't rest on our laurels. So I think the work we've been doing this year around, always, but kind of stepped up this year around flexibility, around work-life balance, around equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging are our evidence that we're still listening. That I'm as excited about the fact that we have I think 98% response to our engagement survey for our employees. I think that means we'll find great things that we can improve on. It means we will hear great things, but it also means that we have people who care about where they work.

And that's huge. That is just huge. And so I think that translates then into being top employers and things. But I think the commitment to always be thinking about how you can improve is marvelous. And we have fantastic people, we have big committee, people, we made the committee almost twice the size we intended for our DEIB committee because so many people were interested in making a difference and you don't let that commitment go. So we made a bigger committee, I'm support for the committee and frankly I'm quite unnecessary as a CEO because the leaders of that from our own staff are just doing a phenomenal job. Just an absolutely phenomenal job. So I'm proud of a lot of things on that front.

Philip De Souza: No, absolutely. And the HIROC culture is just so unique. I always tell people about it, I've been at HIROC now 13 years and it hasn't changed. It's still the same. And you too, Catherine, you make the culture so unique and those you may not know, but whenever there's a staff member at HIROC, for example, who has a new baby, Catherine goes and pulls out her knitting gear and she knits a really sweet toque. And just yesterday one of the employees messaged me and showed me the toque and they said, "Oh, it still fits my son that Catherine made this." So stuff like that really, I know people might think, "Oh," but it adds to the culture because it's that part of our values of caring and respect and it's just an amazing feeling.

Catherine Gaulton: No, it's a phenomenal place to work. And look, people will say this woman, she's desperate for her grandchildren. So no pressure, no pressure for my sons who hear this, but I think it feels warm to have people to do things for frankly and to do things for kids or whatever it is that you're doing in a day. I don't know, it's fulfilling I think to do your small thing because to think that, well that someone knows you've been thinking of them, I think that's really what it's all about. The toque might fall apart, I don't know, but the sense that you're thinking about them.

Philip De Souza: I'll put you in the hot seat for some questions now. Personally, Catherine, if you had to give a 40 minute presentation on anything, it could be anything whatsoever without preparing what would your topic be? What would you give a talk on?

Catherine Gaulton: I think it would be about patient safety. It's really so near and dear and I think it brings in so much of what we do. So what we do at HIROC, what I've done in my life, even my legal pieces, what it brings in though most particularly for me is that focus on listening. So knowing that patients themselves and their families are actually the best judges of what is right and what is important for people. And then if you translate that… it just translates into everything. 

You translate that willingness to say people actually know most about people, they know the most about themselves and we will learn. So anyway, all of that to say patient safety, but that kind of focus about how we react as people to the systems we're working in and how we partner with people in their own care and with their families in their own care would be the talk. And so I'm giving it now so it'll stop. So I think that would be the topic.

Philip De Souza: I think so too, and it's true. When you joined HIROC, you gave me a talk on patient safety and it really has helped shape how we communicate with our subscribers and the initiatives we embark on. And just this past year, for example, in October at our HIROC conference, we did a hackathon, which would've thought we would've done that where we were asking subscribers for their ways in which how we can further impact patient safety. And we had so many subscribers come and join, give us these amazing ideas. And it's absolutely what you said, it's adding to our vision of partnering to create the safest healthcare system. And one more thing I must add. A lot of us read, I know I often read lots of books and leadership and you mentioned leadership before and they always say, "You know, you should do what you love," and it's very clear that you do what you love and it's rubbed off on all of us definitely at HIROC.

Catherine Gaulton: Well, yeah, makes for a long podcast when you get me going on this, so I guess that's very true. But yeah, I don't know mean he went from a 19 year old nurse to now this has really been a passion. And look, the interesting thing is of course it's a passion for everyone, whoever receives healthcare, whoever will. And so there's a lot to keep that passion going for sure.

Philip De Souza: And so I know you like to read a lot and so I thought I'd ask you in a different kind of interesting question. Out of everything you've read, is there a fictional character that you've come across in your many, many in the books you've read that you wish were real?

Catherine Gaulton: Definitely. And look, I hope there are actually a lot of real. Renée Michel who is this frumpy concierge in a book called The Elegance of the Hedgehog. And that character puts everything we believe into, well it challenges everything we believe. For example, that you think that that person wouldn't have already lived a very exciting life, would have an exciting life ahead of them, including romance and all those great things and would be the most compassionate, cranky, or looking to be cranky, but the most compassionate, one of the most compassionate characters that I've read about in literature actually. So The Elegance of the Hedgehog please, wonderful book. And that character, a least expected kind of role, is fantastic. Really love it.

Philip De Souza: I love that. And then speaking of things that bring you joy, what's something that always makes you laugh?

Catherine Gaulton: So I'll say my children make me laugh. My husband tells the worst puns and I tell him that I'm not laughing, but I actually am. But my kids are two very serious children and yet when they play music together or sing together, even on a very serious song, it makes me laugh. It's joyous to see people enjoying being together. And so that always does, it always does. Little kids make me laugh. 

There are stories about Zoom that I tell the story two years later and I still. I've had to turn my camera off so I'll even tell you because they are phenomenal. These kids doing it, coming, telling what happened in the bathroom or getting caught in the couch or whatever it is. Or the cat comes and swipes someone on the side of the cheek while we're giving the most serious of presentations anyway, loads of things, lots of things on zoom make me laugh. But in the norm, a good laugh, always for a good smile and is my children and my family.

Philip De Souza: That's sweet. And you may have answered this in your question about your son's playing music and singing. What's something you can't resist over the holidays?

Catherine Gaulton: Oh man, we have lobster bisque as our Christmas Eve, December 24th. My mother-in-law's recipe, my husband makes it. It is just to die for I make pumpkin cheesecake, which I hope my sons would say they cannot resist, but that's mine.

Philip De Souza: And as we close out this episode I'm limiting you to one word, but you can have an explanation. What's one word you're feeling about 2023?

Catherine Gaulton: Absolute optimism. Absolute optimism. I just think this system, of course, massive turmoil now, things impacting little kids. And so, so much that could make us lose hope I think. And yet I've been around this system for 35 years or more and it's resilient and the people are phenomenal. So I have absolute optimism. Sorry. 800 words for one word, but it is optimism.

Philip De Souza: No, that's a great way to end off and I want to thank you Catherine. I know you're absolutely right. There's just so much going on all around us in the world and things that many people are juggling staff at HIROC and we know our subscribers are juggling a lot and you've been that steady kind of force that's been helping us move forward. And I don't know, I can say on our team, and I think everyone in HIROC can say that we really appreciate that and we really value that and it's helped us. I know it's helped me. So thank you Catherine.

Catherine Gaulton: Oh, thank you. And look, I get my fuel from the people I work with, and especially you and your team Philip. But you really do feel you can accomplish anything when you have that commitment that I see around me every day from HIROC people and then who we see in the system of course. So lots of fuel, lots of fuel for that.

Philip De Souza: Excellent. So let's take that fuel and continue to look forward with optimism. And I want to thank our listeners as well, all our Healthcare Change Makers listeners, a fun fact. We have listeners from over five continents who listen to this show. It's amazing.

Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review. Healthcare Change Makers is recorded by HIROC's Communications and Marketing team and produced by Podfly Productions. Follow us on Twitter at @hirocgroup or email us at We'd love to hear from you.