Episode 31: Walking the Same Path As Your Staff With Paul Heinrich, President & CEO North Bay Regional Health Centre

Episode 31: Walking the Same Path As Your Staff With Paul Heinrich, President & CEO North Bay Regional Health Centre

Years of post-secondary education in a variety of disciplines – before and during his healthcare career – have helped North Bay Regional Health Centre President & CEO Paul Heinrich develop a thoughtful and creative approach to decision-making.

Show Summary

Paul is living proof that behind every healthcare leader is a nurse – in his case his mother and his wife. Their compassionate dedication to their craft has helped Paul develop a caring and thoughtful approach to leadership that’s helped him in posts he’s held in Calgary, Inuvik, Georgian Bay, and for the past 8 years in North Bay.

Paul is a true lifelong learner. He has the equivalent of more than 14 years of post-secondary education that includes two Masters Degrees, a Chartered Accountant designation, and he’s a certified health executive.

We first spoke with Paul early in 2020 just before the pandemic hit, and we were lucky to catch up with him again this past March. He reflected on how the north has traditionally been humble about its innovations, talents, and capabilities. But with the pandemic, he says there’s been a paradigm shift and people have started to appreciate the talents and resourcefulness of the north in a new way.

At one point in the pandemic, when the numbers of COVID positive critical care patients in southern Ontario were rising to dangerous levels, North Bay was officially added as a load-sharing site. When we talked to Paul, they had not received any critical care patients, but since then, several have arrived and they expect to receive more until we’re through this current crisis period.

Mentioned in this Episode


Narrator (Intro): 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.

Ellen Gardner: Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast from HIROC. I'm Ellen Gardner with Phillip De Souza. Our guest today is Paul Heinrich, President and CEO of North Bay Regional Health Centre. Paul is living proof that behind every healthcare leader is a nurse. In his case, his mother and his wife. Their compassionate dedication to their craft has helped Paul develop a caring and thoughtful approach to leadership, that's helped him in posts he's held in Calgary, Inuvik, Georgian Bay and for the past eight years in North Bay. We first spoke with Paul early in 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

And we were lucky to catch up with him again this past March. He reflected on how the North has traditionally been humble about its innovations and capabilities, but with the pandemic, he says, there's been a paradigm shift. People have started to appreciate the talents and resourcefulness of the North in a new way.

At one point of the pandemic, when the numbers of COVID positive, critical care patients in Southern Ontario were rising to dangerous levels, North Bay was officially added as a load-sharing site. When we talked to Paul, they had not received any critical care patients, but since then, several have arrived and they expect to receive more until we're through this current crisis period.

Ellen Gardner: I want to ask you Paul, what was your first professional job and what did you bring from that experience to your work at North Bay Regional Health Center?

Paul Heinrich: Growing up, my mother was a home care nurse. I sometimes would even go in the car with her to visits. I really admired the work that she did. I could see the positive impact she had on the patients that she looked after. I think I was really inspired early on as a boy. As soon as I graduated from my undergraduate at Nipissing University, my mom found me this job. It was the business manager for Muskoka East Parry Sound Home Care Program, which at the time, in 1992, was responsible for all the home care services from Muskoka East Parry Sound.

Paul Heinrich: It was a really interesting job, so I went to work for the same employer that my mother had worked for. I was inspired certainly, and I spent the entire 28 years, my healthcare career in the healthcare industry. I chose this industry for my lifelong career. I actually met the love of my life, who is a nurse at Home Care as well, in Huntsville. I always reflected. I've been fortunate to have the insight and wise counsel of my wife and my mother. I think it's helped me become a really considerate person, that's thoughtful about the impact, the decisions I make have on our patients and staff.

Ellen Gardner: You've been fortunate to have strong women in your life. Paul, one thing that really stands out is your commitment to lifelong learning. You have the equivalent of more than 14 years of post-secondary education, two Master's degrees, you're a certified health executive. You have a chartered accountant designation. What is it about those educational experiences that have prepared you to be a healthcare leader?

Paul Heinrich: Well, I've always understood that in order to be a healthcare leader of any significance, I needed broad education and deep education and experience. And I set out on purpose in my lifetime, to have a varied educational background. That allows me to bring different professional lenses to problem-solving. My last degree was a Masters of Education. I set out to do that because I had a concept for North Bay Regional Health Center that I wanted to create. I wanted to create internal educational leadership capacity. I guess leadership education capacity. So I learned things about adult learning, and I did a little bit of modest research on leadership development as part of that course.

Paul Heinrich: I basically used the hospital as a living laboratory and added value to the hospital through that education. What's resulted is all of our leaders, at every level of management, and even beyond, are trained in continuous quality improvement tools, creative problem-solving tools and other leadership skills. That goes for not only administrative leadership, but also for our physician leadership group as well.

So what we're doing is investing in our people and having that readily available resource embedded in our organization, so that it just becomes a natural way of approaching your work is to improve the work every day.

Ellen Gardner: We first talked to you in early 2020 before the whole world changed. You told us some incredible stories, which we will include in today's podcast. I wondered if you could bring us up to date. How did you and your staff manage through all the chaos created by the pandemic?

Paul Heinrich: Our team is better prepared than most to handle change. We're very adaptable and we take things in stride. Our organization just this year, turned 10 years old. Before North Bay Regional Health Centre existed, there were three organizations. That got brought down to two, and then we had North Bay General Hospital and Northeast Mental Health Centre combined. So we moved into a brand new building, with a brand new corporation, a merger of Tertiary Mental Health, large community hospital, and lots of different outpatient programs. So it's a pretty special organization. Just to be able to make that kind of cultural facility and a programmatic change all come together, has really started us off on the right foot.

Paul Heinrich: Most recently, we went "live" with MEDITECH Expanse in our organization. That was three years in the making. And really, it prepared us, because as we went "live", I think October 2019, we had a very short period in between post "go live" optimization, which is a very challenging time. In order to achieve the outcome of bringing that technology online, we had to have very routine emergency meetings essentially. So we more or less picked right back up where we were in closely monitoring the health information system upgrade.

Ellen Gardner: Paul, I want to go into something you mentioned, talking about the electronic health information system. I know that this system is going to eventually see all 24 hospitals in the region share one chart for each patient in the region. So this is a massive undertaking. What are you most proud of about this launch?

Paul Heinrich: I'm most proud of the fact that our organization took a risk. Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking one. Our organization, along with Sault Ste. Marie, West Parry Sound, bravely decided to be wave one and build some of the system together. But, we always did it cooperatively, with all the organizations. Now, I'm very excited that the other hospitals, including Sudbury, will be coming online soon. It really is a build that’s not just off-the-shelf software. It's very much customized around quality improvement and consistency of care, but adapted to the local circumstance. The actual build of the system is an opportunity to manage change, to make continuous quality improvement happen, and to me, that would be the best recipe in the place to start for the integration agenda going forward.

Ellen Gardner: As you say, there's so many amazing benefits to this new system. The timing of it seems quite precipitous, considering you launched the system and we moved into a pandemic where the risks became so much higher. All of a sudden, staff had to take so many more precautions. So, that must have been a thought going through your head, and all the leadership team, that this is amazing timing.

Paul Heinrich: Well, it's funny you should mention that, because on the one hand, I feel a certain level of guilt, because we've been working our team in overdrive going back even before the pandemic. I'm just so proud of how our teams responded. A good leader cannot use their authority to make unreasonable demands on their personnel. Essentially, the circumstance of the last year just feels like we're doing that every day to them, but an amazing thing has happened. They've just become that much better at their jobs, better able to make decisions, but not major decisions always. We're able to make decisions very fast, while actually analyzing all the pros and cons and risks, also involving the stakeholders. We just found ways to do that incredibly quickly and efficiently.

Ellen Gardner: Crisis is a really challenging experience for any leader. You can plan and prepare and yet when it happens, you have to rise to it. You have to draw on all your own personal resources and hopefully the planning that's been done before. As a leader, Paul, during this difficult time, how did you support your staff? What did you do differently this year?

Paul Heinrich: So really, I alluded to the fact that our people are under so much pressure. The best thing we could do is support the best level of communication. It was the number one requirement, and we had a very inclusive emergency response structure. Routinely, we would have senior leadership followed by emergency operation council, followed by a meeting with all managers, plus all union leads. The communication was very fluid and consistent. After each of those cycles, and that could have been a daily, a weekly, a biweekly, we changed the timing based on the demand of the pandemic at any point in time. 

And at the end of the cycle, we would put out a news brief, very high quality. Then our managers would use that as a consistent source of truth, to communicate with their teams, to keep everyone completely in the loop. That helped everyone understand the why behind the decisions, because many of the decisions, as you can imagine, none of us, outside of the pandemic experience, would be able to actually explain why any of these things made sense.

Ellen Gardner: One of the things you talked to us about last year was your unique approach to problem-solving. I recall it was a combination of suspending judgment and encouraging participation from the quiet ones in the room. You use those skills with great results when you took on the CEO role of the newly amalgamated hospitals in North Bay, in 2012. How did you adapt those skills to some of the problems that arose during the past year?

Paul Heinrich: So, it's incredibly important that you don't ask your staff to do something you wouldn't be willing to do yourself, or follow some protocol or formatting that you wouldn't use yourself, or jump to conclusion because you happen to have authority and you like your idea better. You really have a critical responsibility to reflect the comprehensive viewpoint of your team.

I did in fact, do a thesis regarding leadership development in hospitals, in Ontario. So in 50% of the organizations that actually had leadership development programs, the criticism was people are not behaving the way that they're asking their teams to be. That undermines that leadership acumen. It's never been more important than in the pandemic. Really the moral authority of a leader to lead, pretty much anywhere has been tested, I think, to the nth degree. Because you do need moral authority to be a leader, you're not a leader if no one's following you. It's not about a position title.

Ellen Gardner: Paul, how Have you maintained balance in your own life during the past year?

Paul Heinrich: Well, to be quite honest, early on in the pandemic, when we were working incredibly long hours, I wasn't sleeping properly and I couldn't play hockey anymore.

Ellen Gardner: That would be a problem.

Paul Heinrich: It was a huge problem for me, hockey. My ring tone is NHL music. My overall health actually personally declined early on. Fortunately, I had lots of strong support around me and I realized that I needed to do what kept me healthy, which is exercise. So, what I started doing was going for hikes at Duchesnay Falls, which is a beautiful hiking trail near North Bay, on lunch breaks. Then I started taking longer lunch breaks, but they weren't lunch breaks. I scheduled in meetings. So while I was on the trail, I could actually conduct business and also be getting exercise. Then I discovered a fun thing – it’s really hard to get stressed, no matter what the conversation is when you're in the middle of the forest.

Paul Heinrich: I guess I should've said this first, but my wife is always been a source of strength. She's always solidly behind me and she's supported me, and recognized the challenges that I was undergoing. Beyond my wife, I stayed connected with two of my children that still live at home and all five of my children period, and virtually connecting with our grandchildren. We have two grandchildren who live in London, Ontario, and one that lives in Vancouver. So they're the joy of my life and definitely remind you of what's critically important in life.

Ellen Gardner: I really liked your idea, Paul, and something you've put into practice for yourself of hiking and doing meetings while you're hiking. Is that a practice that you think you'll continue for a long time?

Paul Heinrich: No, I'm nervous because I am speaking with HIROC. So I realized there's a risk of me stumbling over a route while looking at my phone. However, the risk of not getting my exercise and feeling calm and nature is a higher, a bigger challenge for me!

Philip De Souza: One thing that did, but I do take away from it, Paul, is that, and I think that a lot of leaders need to keep in mind. And I love that you brought it up, is taking care of oneself. Everyone needs to take time for themselves and take care of themselves, especially in a year where everyone's been kind of go, go, go, go, go. So you kind of recognizing that in yourself and say, you know what? I need to take care of myself. I need to get some fresh air, but guess what, I can take a few calls from very important people. So as a leader and speaking to other leaders, Paul, why do you think it's important for leaders to take time from themselves. Make sure that their mental health is right. What do you think is the benefits of that are?

Paul Heinrich: What I realized is it doesn't matter how experienced, knowledgeable or well supported a person is there's a limit to every individual. I think you have to self-manage that. In fact, I participate in a 360 review of my performance every two years. I found by doing a 360, that too, actually helped me realize I was not indestructible. I don't want to give myself too much credit because as I mentioned, I do have a very supportive family and a very supportive leadership team. So I'd say, and I was asked the question by my board the other day, not too long ago, how is everybody doing? And, I basically responded, you got to look around. I'm surrounded by medical professionals. You're not allowed to get unwell in this hospital. It doesn't matter if you're the boss. Guys, you can't lead if you're unwell, honestly. Your team needs you to be well in order to make the right decisions.

Philip De Souza: What's one thing you feel that, I don't know how to, I'm trying to figure out how to word it properly, without showing my city ignorance. What's the one thing you feel that people from other parts, not from rural areas, may take for granted of the depth of experience, and the professionalism, and the safety cultures that organizations such as yours have?

Paul Heinrich: Just generally speaking or the best kept secret in the north, really there's so much capacity and leadership. Our challenge is the connectivity and the large geography. I think maybe the virtual care options, virtual communication that we developed is going to build a stronger force and a stronger voice from the north. I guess it's just being aware that the north is here.

The more important thing, that's an exciting thing that just happened is that North Bay was identified at the point in time when the pressure was getting very high, especially moving all the way down to Barrie. The number of the number of COVID positive, critical care patients was rising to dangerous levels. It was quite an unprecedented thing that we were officially added as a load sharing site and could have received, fortunately we didn't, critical care patients from the south. When has that ever happened? So I think that's an example where people will start to see the north as a resource that goes beyond supporting the north.

Ellen Gardner: Okay, we're going to move you the lightning round. So I'm going to ask you a series of quick questions. Just provide the answer that first comes into your mind. The first question is if you weren't in healthcare, what would your dream career be?

Paul Heinrich: I would be a professional hockey player, or at least a Zamboni driver.

Ellen Gardner: What's on your music playlist, Paul?

Paul Heinrich: I usually listen to classic rock and there's a station on the satellite radio called The Bridge, that my wife and I are quite fond of. It's easy listening classic rock music.

Ellen Gardner: Are you a coffee man or a tea man?

Paul Heinrich: I drink coffee, diet Pepsi and red bull. Sometimes my staff asks me not to have quite as much, because it sometimes impacts their workload.

Ellen Gardner: What's one thing about you, Paul, that would surprise people?

Paul Heinrich: That I am actually competent at stone masonry. So this past summer, growing up my summer job was routinely working with masonry. Every year from the age of, I think 13 to 20, my summer job was to do masonry. I hadn't done any masonry for at least 25 years. I decided to do this massive, 400 hour, stone walkway and step project, which involved seven tons of three inch granite, all cut up into and creating steps and a walk away. I was pretty proud of the results of that. I was kind of proving to my wife that I could do that. She didn't believe that I was a qualified masonry person, because it had been so long. So I think she's convinced now.

Ellen Gardner: She probably has a list of projects for you to do now.

Paul Heinrich: Now, yeah, exactly. That was the mistake. Now, she's got another list of things that I can do for sure.

Ellen Gardner: We really want to thank you, Paul, for speaking with us today. It was a real pleasure.

Paul Heinrich: Thank you so much, Ellen. You’re an excellent host. Thanks so much.

Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website HIROC.com 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 communications@hiroc.com. We'd love to hear from you.