Inspiring Impact with Jennifer Cornell

Inspiring Impact with Jennifer Cornell

For this special series, Inspiring Impact, HIROC is partnering with AdvantAge Ontario to highlight the work of several of the presenters at their online education and networking event in May.

Show Summary

Today we’re talking with one of the session presenters, Jennifer Cornell, Director of Long Term Care for the County of Grey. She moved into the position in 2019. During the tumultuous time that followed, she’s been fortified by the support of the Long Term Care community where leaders are encouraged to express vulnerability and “Call a Friend” when they need help.

Jennifer has also derived strength from the County slogan, Colour It Your Way – words that express a promise and a philosophy of person-centred care. Making that philosophy central to every decision she says has meant talking about it a lot and getting curious about what it means to people.

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 Inspiring Impact, a special series from HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario. I'm Ellen Gardner with Phillip De Souza. This is our fourth episode in the series, and today we're delighted to welcome Jennifer Cornell. Welcome to Inspiring Impact, Jennifer. Nice to have you.

Jennifer Cornell: Thanks so much, Ellen. It's really great to be here.

Ellen Gardner: Can you tell us a little bit about where you work and what you do there?

Jennifer Cornell: Sure. I work for the County of Grey, which is a municipality in southwestern Ontario. The county operates three long-term care homes. We have 150 residents in Owen Sound, 100 residents in Durham and 66 residents in Markdale, and I lead and support the teams in the homes as the Director of Long Term Care.

Ellen Gardner: How long have you been there?

Jennifer Cornell: I have been with the County of Grey just over 10 years, and I've been in the role of the Director since October of 2019, so just before the pandemic.

Ellen Gardner: We know that you recently presented at the AdvantAge Ontario annual convention. What was the focus of your talk, Jennifer?

Jennifer Cornell: I participated in two presentations, actually. One was a partnership with Ontario Caregiver's Organization, Bruyere CLRI (Centre for Learning Research and Innovation), and Grey County, and we talked about our experience supporting essential caregivers. The other presentation was a fireside chat with our staffing partners, and we were just chatting about how we worked with our external partnerships in Grey County to support our staffing levels through the various waves of the pandemic.

Ellen Gardner: Was there anything surprising or really interesting to you that came out of that fireside chat?

Jennifer Cornell: There were lots of questions about how did we look outside the box, and how did we use innovations. Really, it just highlighted for me the importance of our Colour It Your Way approach, and those are our words for resident-centred or person-centred care. We've started expanding that to not just the resident experience, but also to the staff experience.

Ellen Gardner: That's something that you had brought up to us a couple of weeks ago when we spoke, and we're very interested in this model of care. So maybe you can tell us how you came to adopt it, where it comes from, a little bit about the model?

Jennifer Cornell: I love talking about Colour It Your Way. So Colour It Your Way is the tagline for the County of Grey, and it came into being around eight or nine years ago, and it also became the promise that we make in Grey County Long Term Care. So, as I said, it's our words for person-centred care, and through the engagement of residents, staff members, stakeholders, partners, we imagined what person-centred care meant to people. What does it mean to you? If your experience at Grey County Long Term Care was perfect, what would that look like? We actually drew some pictures and did some engagement to vision what that is, and we came up with an acronym for Colour It.

So C is community, O is for opportunity, L is for leadership, O is organizational quality and safety, U are the centre of all that we do, R is for relationships, I is integrity, and T is into tomorrow. And it's really these words that give us a foundation of how we support our care communities.

Ellen Gardner: If I was to walk into one of your homes and see that you'd transitioned from an institutional model to a resident-led care approach, what would look different to me about that facility?

Jennifer Cornell: I think it's maybe less about how it would look, and more about how it would feel. And so one example is we applied our Colour It promise to the admission process, and we think about our language. We think about what happens when someone is admitted into long-term care, and our team members said, "Really, you're not admitted into long-term care. You move in."

So we've changed our language. It's our Colour It move in, and we ask questions of the resident, the individual moving in, and their support networks, so their family or their friends, and we ask them questions like, ‘What does community mean to you?’ ‘What relationships are important in your life?’ ‘If something doesn't go quite right, how do we approach that with integrity?’ ‘How do you want to live your life into tomorrow?’

And so we use the Colour It language and the Colour It acronym to ask meaningful questions, to make sure that we're providing the care and the services that are meaningful to that individual.

Ellen Gardner: What's it been like, in terms of your leadership team and frontline staff, in terms of embracing this model? Maybe talk a little bit about how it actually got implemented?

Jennifer Cornell: It's really a shift in thinking and a shift in culture, and that takes time. So, as a leader, as many of us are, I'm impatient, and so, we want to see change immediately, but it takes time, and we need to be noticing the changes as they happen, and paying attention to that.

As I mentioned, this was eight years in the making, and it's really people knew about it because we talked about it, so while it's been happening for eight years, there's still work to be done and opportunities to bring about positive change.

Jennifer Cornell: So our leaders right now, we're looking at how do we expand the Colour It philosophy from the resident experience to also include the staff experience. So we're looking at our orientation, and how do we Colour It orientation? When someone starts in one of our care communities, do we create a sense of community? Do they feel like they have opportunities? Are they getting good leadership? Are they feeling safe? Do they feel like they're valued and they're appreciated?

Jennifer Cornell: It's something that becomes a part of how we talk and how we approach basically every change, every initiative, every quality improvement opportunity, and it's just in doing that consistently and intentionally, that it becomes known, and it becomes a part of the fabric of the organization.

Ellen Gardner: As the leader of the organization, you have an important role to play in believing in this process, and helping other people believe in it. What's been personally fulfilling for you in seeing this happen?

Jennifer Cornell: There's so much happening in our sector, in long-term care right now, and there really always has been, and it's just been accelerated by the pandemic, and over the past year and a half. So in a new leadership role, in a pandemic, that was just filled with the need to have to make some pretty tough decisions and some pretty quickly. I found and continue to find, the Colour It model and that framework really helpful in taking a step back, taking a breath, and thinking through, what are the options, what are the decisions to be made, and how can I use Colour It to help make a person-centred decision?

Jennifer Cornell: We've added a couple of questions in our Colour It framework in our senior leadership team, when we're making any sort of change, or a change to policy, or adding a new program. The three questions that we reflect on are, does this Colour It, so does it meet all that criteria, is it leading practice, and is it equitable and reliable? And by equitable and reliable, we recognize that all three of our care communities are in unique cities and towns, and they have their own unique features, so when we're applying a change, do we respect and allow that uniqueness to shine through? And when it's reliable, when we implement this change, can we reliably expect the outcome that we're hoping for on a sustainable and consistent basis?

Ellen Gardner: At HIROC we've talked to leaders all year, and what we hear is that it's been a challenging time for leadership, just because you had to make so many new decisions, you had to make them quickly, people were turning to you in ways that you hadn't had before, maybe, and especially for you, being new in the job, where did you find the support and the strength? I know it does sound like you found it in Colour It, but were there other ways that you found strength, just to feel like you were able to cope with all the things being thrown at you?

Jennifer Cornell: The long-term care sector is a really caring and compassionate and innovative and helpful group of leaders, and when you reach out and say, "Hey, I'm not sure how to handle this?" Someone responds, and so I think it's really in reaching out and we call it, “Call a Friend”. So we would do virtual updates for our families and communities, virtual COVID updates as things were changing, and I was the host of an update, but I was just the spokesperson. So someone would ask a question and I'd say, "Well, I'm going to call a friend, let's throw it out to the teams?" And my phone would light up and lots of team members would text me back with the answers, and that became just part of what's expected. We don't need to know all the answers in leadership, we just need to know when to ask, and to ask for help, and we'll get it.

Ellen Gardner: Do you have any thoughts you want to share on how the County of Grey has been managing the staff shortage?

Jennifer Cornell: I did reach out to the homes in preparation for this discussion, to say, "Hey, can you share some scenarios with me, and some of your Colour It stories," because we intentionally look for Colour It stories so that we know when to celebrate and take a moment to do that. And the theme that came back from all three homes, was in acknowledging that the pandemic is hard for the long-term care sector and the organization, but also for each of us as individuals, and many of our team members were really struggling, just like we were, with childcare, virtual school, and having some of that conflict with our regular scheduled work hours. What the teams and the homes did was say, ok, they looked at it on a case-by-case situation. "What could we do that's flexible? How can we support both needs?" And many times, staff flexed their start time so that they could still support their kids at home, and then also still fulfill their commitment at work, just starting at a different time. So we really took this very flexible approach, and it worked out.

Ellen Gardner: If a healthcare organization wanted to implement something similar, they looked at your homes and saw what you'd done, and you were giving them some advice, what would be one or two things you'd say that they should be thinking about?

Jennifer Cornell: I think getting clear on your purpose and on your vision. What is it that you're trying to achieve as an organization or as a care home or a facility, and then go out and start talking to people and getting curious about what that means to them.

So if you have a mission statement and a vision statement dust it off if you haven't brought it out in a while, start saying the words and seeing if that really resonates with people, and use the words a lot. I really think it's just approaching the conversations from a place of valuing and appreciating people, and determining what is the standard and how do we hold the standard, and ask lots of questions. People will tell you when you ask them.

Ellen Gardner: I like the idea of continuing to ask questions and evolving, not being afraid of change.

Jennifer Cornell: A coach that I've worked with for years told me a long time ago, that there's this misconception that we don't like change, and if that was the case, we would never get our hair done, and we wouldn't buy new shoes.

So we do like change, but you're right. It can be uncomfortable, and I think it's when the change is outside of our control, that it's really scary. So if everyone's engaged in discussing what the change looks like, it makes it a much more comfortable process.

Ellen Gardner: How have you looked after yourself this past year?

Jennifer Cornell: Yeah, you know, I feel like I'm not alone in maybe not taking enough time to do some reflection on that. I think leaders in long-term care, especially, have been in response mode and care mode for 15, 16, 17 months, and I do think that's not sustainable. We need to take a minute to take a breath, and so I do depend on my colleagues to give me a nudge and say, "Hey, you've suggested I take a break. I think maybe you need to take a break too," and really just respecting that as coming from a place of caring and compassion, and we need to do that for each other.

So I do download audible books and I try to get out for some walks and listen to some fiction, as a chance to get away and take a break, but I think there's opportunity for all of us leaders in healthcare to maybe make some plans for the summer to take some time off.

Phillip De Souza: Really appreciate the fact that part of the Colour It program, the model, quality and safety is something that we truly value as part of our vision and mission at HIROC, so it's so true when you talk about having that North Star and making sure you remember and say it. I love also the “Call a Friend” model, that's something I know as a reciprocal, here at HIROC is, we see our subscribers calling one another. They call us, of course, as well, and then we provide that guidance and say, we provide it to one subscriber, they're more than happy to share that guidance with others so that, you know, all of our subscribers are going towards that same goal, to turn the corner on patient safety.

So I guess my question about the shift and thinking is, along the journey, was there any apprehension from staff or leaders or anyone involved in implementing it, that you had to communicate more, or pivot a bit and go a different route to share the value in the Colour It model?

Jennifer Cornell: Absolutely. I mean, it took time, and for some people, this felt a lot like rainbows and unicorns. I said "Colour It," a lot. So I decided early on that the person that invented Nike's Just Do It, didn't say it two or three times and put it in an email and then it just took off. They probably said it 53 times a day, and people probably rolled their eyes at them, until it became a thing that now when you say, "Just do it," everybody knows that that's Nike.

And so I took that approach. So of course I got a few eye rolls here and there, and it was really just in, how do we apply this to the everyday situation? So, "You're having this challenge. Let's use Colour It.” Maybe we had a Colour It missed opportunity. What could we do differently? How did this actually give this person a feeling of being the centre of all that we do?"

Jennifer Cornell: And once we started having conversations with questions that were really specific to that scenario, people started to see, "Okay, I can see how this applies. I can see that this isn't just words, that this is more than that."

Phillip De Souza: What's next for the Colour It model as you continue the journey? Do you see it transitioning? Do you see it changing? I guess my follow-up would be, if a number of subscribers or listeners today wanted to implement it, can they reach out to you, or is there a resource or something they can go to like a website or something, or a book et cetera?

Jennifer Cornell: It's ever-evolving and Grey County Long Term Care is in the process of implementing a two-year pilot, a Behavioral Support Transition Unit at Grey Gables. We're also in the early stages of two new builds, two new redevelopments, and so Colour It will be a very strong theme and guide, as you said, the North Star, I like that, to help us make sure we're on vision as we build these programs and these bricks and mortar.

Jennifer Cornell: As for more information, happy for people to reach out. Grey County has a website,, and there's a Long Term Care page and contact information is there, and happy to share resources. I have benefited greatly from people sharing their resources and their ideas, and so I'm happy to share that. There's some really great book resources out there. I love Brene Brown. I think Ellen talked about vulnerability, and I really think that that's a big piece of being authentic and genuine, and Moira and her book Happily Ever Older, and I also really enjoy Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It's really just this look at how do we support people in living a life worth living, and what does that mean?

So many opportunities to really explore how do we shift long-term care as a sector into something that we all would want to experience someday.

Phillip De Souza: That's fantastic. Thank you for sharing all those resources and all those tips. Thank you.

Ellen Gardner: I just want to echo what Phillip said. It's just been great talking to you and hearing about Colour It, and, yes, we just wish you so much luck with the journey ahead. Although you're really on the way, so it's more a matter of just yes, follow it, and keep your eye on that North Star.

Jennifer Cornell: No problem. Thanks so much. I am just so honoured to have been invited too. I love to tell the Colour It story.

Ellen Gardner: You've just been listening to Inspiring Impact, a special series produced by HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario. Today, our guest was Jennifer Cornell, Director of Long Term Care for the County of Grey, which operates three long-term care homes. Thank you for listening.

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.