Suann Laurent always knew she wanted to work in health care.
“As a child, I remember reading books about what you want to be when you grow up, and my answer was always that I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. Her commitment to care giving started early, “As my mother can confirm, I was always bringing home animals and caring for them.”
Suann, now the chief operating officer (COO) for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), is driven by a fierce commitment to quality and safety in health care and working with teams to achieve those goals. Said Laurent, “At its core, health care to me is about genuinely caring and focusing on working with our teams to do what’s right. Even in the face of challenges, if we focus on doing what is right for the people we serve, we can get through anything.”
As COO, Laurent is second in command to CEO Scott Livingstone and responsible for the overall day-to-day operations of the SHA, providing oversight for the continued development of our high-quality, safe and integrated health care organization. Laurent works closely with the board of directors and the dyad leadership team comprised of physician executives and clinical vice presidents. “I’m passionate about people and leadership, working with our teams to deliver results for the people of Saskatchewan,” she said. “It’s all about engaging and involving people, and really listening to what the issues are and then developing and executing a strategy to make improvements.”
Leading a visibility wall walk
Experiencing health care service delivery from all angles
Laurent has worked in health care for more than 30 years, first volunteering as a candy striper during her high school years in her hometown of Treherne, Man., and then entering into nursing school. Her career has included roles throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan as a nurse assistant, nurse, front-line manager, director, executive director, vice president and as president and CEO of Sunrise Health Region. Laurent was also a part of the provincial health care Transition Team, as the team lead responsible for governance, legislation and organizational design.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to experience health care service delivery from nearly every angle and have been afforded some really great opportunities throughout my career,” said Laurent. “The one constant for me has always been the strength of our teams. We really do have the greatest jobs, to be able to actually see how we can benefit the people we serve, and how every single person and role in our entire organization contributes to the greater good.”
Crediting Doug Ball – former CEO of Midwest Health District – as a mentor, Laurent reminisces that Ball was the first to pique her interest in the administrative side of health care. “At the time, I was working as a nurse and he kept telling me that I should get into management,” she said. “Up to that point, I hadn’t even considered it; but with his encouragement, I started working towards my commerce degree, and the rest is history.”
Laurent has a diploma in nursing, a bachelor of science degree in nursing, is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Commerce and has her master’s degree in health studies – leadership from Athabasca University. She is also a certified Lean leader, and a surveyor for Accreditation Canada, with extensive experience accrediting health systems in Canada and internationally.
“Accreditation has been such an important experience for me and I feel blessed to be able to be involved for over 18 years now,” said Laurent. “It helps keep me current, to lead by example, and really gives the opportunity to see what other health systems are doing. Being able to learn from best practices and to also provide information back to others on best practices that we as surveyors have experienced in our own systems is so important. Information sharing and collaboration to ensure we are committed to a high standard of care and best practice for everyone is truly what it’s all about.”
Suann and Rob with their children Danica and Devin
Married for 31 years to her husband Rob, a retired RCMP officer, Laurent said her husband and their two adult children have always kept her focused on a healthy work-life balance. “No matter what is going on in our lives, family is always the priority,” she said. “Our daughter and son-in-law live near Winnipeg, and our son lives in Vancouver, so it can sometimes be a challenge to get everyone together. We make every opportunity to spend time as a family, taking vacations and getting together whenever possible.”
Spending time at the family cabin at Duck Mountain Provincial Park is one of Laurent’s favorite things, and gives her the opportunity to partake in some of her hobbies including golfing, snowmobiling and kayaking. “It’s definitely one of our ‘happy places’,” she said. “Our daughter and son-in-law even had their wedding at our cabin a couple of years ago; it has a special place in our hearts.”
Patients: Our guiding force
Reflecting on the experiences she has had professionally, Laurent states that she is most proud of the teams she has been a part of. “I have been fortunate to have been involved in the Saskatchewan health system through many changes, including becoming districts, then regions, then working on the transition team and now being part of the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” she said. “The thing that always resonates with me is the amazing teams that I’ve had the good fortune to lead and to be a part of, including our staff, physicians, volunteers, patients and families.
“One constant we can be sure of, is that health care will always be evolving and changing. It’s not just about what we are doing now, but what we are doing that will also positively impact future generations. It’s about using our tools and the strength of our teams, helping everyone grow and to ‘pack their parachute’ to deliver great results.”
Added Laurent, “It’s about having a lens on quality and safety, and about understanding that every one of us has a role in making improvements for our patients, because our patients are the central focus of everything we do; their needs are our true North Star. I sincerely believe that every person has the capacity to be the change they want to see in the world.”