He’d rather be outside than anywhere else, and once there, he doesn’t like sitting quietly.
Kim McKechney, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Communications for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, has to be doing something active or something that challenges his fears to be happy.
“If I was to do any other job, I’d choose professional cyclist,” he says, “or maybe something like extreme mailman, if that existed,” he laughs. “Pretty much anything outside or active, especially if it puts me just outside my comfort zone, I’d be happy!”
McKechney, 39, uses sports, like biking and rock climbing, as a way to conquer his fears and stay active.
“Growing up, I was into distance running, then I got into triathlons for a few years. When my kids were born, I got more practical than trying to do three sports, so when I have time, I cycle. I find the most joy in cycling, and it’s generally less impactful than running, when I’m not crashing!”
But he doesn’t do things by halves; when he gets into something, he’s all in. “I get really competitive about sports,” he laughs. “So I actually started entering cycling races. I have crashed a few times, but only one crash required surgery!”
Cycling is his latest love, but growing up, he was into hockey, basketball, football, and even ultimate Frisbee at one point. He also took up rock climbing as a way of getting over his fear of heights.
“I will play whatever sport you ask me to play,” he says.
McKechney grew up in Saskatoon, graduating from Aden Bowman Collegiate. He studied politics at university, spending a year at Dalhousie University in Halifax before transferring back home to the University of Saskatchewan to complete his bachelor’s degree. He went on to complete his Masters in Political Science Degree at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, BC.
Kim McKechney with his family: wife Jeanne and sons Cohen and Parker
He credits his parents for his interest in politics, public service and government.
“I’ve always been a politics nerd,” he admits. “It definitely interested me from a young age. Politics was always, and still is, a topic around the dinner table in my family. And the discussion is always vibrant.”
McKechney’s father, Ken, worked as an engineer with Federated Co-operatives Ltd for 37 years; his mother, Margaret, a United Church Minister and counsellor. Both are now retired.
“My mom was the first minister in Saskatchewan to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony,” McKechney says. “It’s something that makes me very proud. It is just one example of the work she did as a minister over many years to help address equality issues and make life better for those around her. ”
“My dad has a similar mentality about helping people,” McKechney adds. “The best example I can think of is the thousands of hours of work my dad has probably put in on behalf of several of the families that came to Saskatoon as a result of the wars that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. I’m not even sure my parents think of this stuff as work, just something that has to be done because people need help.”
Now that he’s grown, he still enjoys having tough political discussions.
“I just like the debate,” he says. “My parents have always really cared about what is happening politically. I don’t always agree with them, but I always respect their opinions, and where they are coming from. They really raised me to understand that politics is mainly about differing philosophies about how to use our limited resources. They taught me that people can have differing perspectives, and can disagree without being disagreeable.”
After his masters degree at SFU, McKechney worked in communications with the Government of Saskatchewan. Over his time in government, McKechney served in several portfolios, including Environment, Social Services and Health. McKechney then moved away from government and became the Executive Director of Communications and Marketing at the University of Regina. After a reorganization of his department, he then became the Associate Vice-President of External Relations.
“The university was a really different environment than government, but I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I feel I grew more in those four years of my career than in the rest of the years before because of the support I got from the executive team. My direct supervisor, the president of the university, was unbelievably supportive and allowed me to grow in my career.”
The only thing that drew McKechney away from the University of Regina was an opportunity to make a huge impact on the province he calls home. Late last year, he applied for and was awarded the job as head of Community Engagement and Communications for the newly formed Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“I just wanted to be involved in something of this importance, and of this scale,” he says of what attracted him to this position. “I didn’t want to regret passing up the opportunity to be a part of something I think will be hugely historical for Saskatchewan.”
Communications is playing a significant role in this transition to one health authority.
“There’s a significant role for mass communications that can drive massive change,” he notes.
McKechney is also in charge of community engagement for the SHA.
“We have things to build, health networks across the province that are integral to giving people the ability to make the right choices. Community engagement, as I see it, has a huge role to play in people accessing the right services. We need to engage and involve the public in the design of this health system, and I’m happy I get to play a role in that.”
The McKechney boys at play.
Humboldt tragedyMcKechney was just getting settled into his new role in this new organization, heading a newly formed team of communicators across the province when April 6, 2018 changed everything.
Looking from the outside, you wouldn’t think that the bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey club would have a huge impact on the Saskatchewan Health Authority communications team, but in that, you would be wrong.
Communications team members worked behind the scenes to coordinate everything from social media messages about the Code Orange at Royal University Hospital that night – the code that is called when a large number of casualties are expected – to press conferences to celebrity visits to working with patients in the hospital and statements from families in the days following the crash.
The bus crash, in which 16 people died and 13 others were injured, had a deep impact on McKechney both personally and professionally.
“In addition to being a terrible tragedy, the scale of which the health care system has never seen before, it came at a time when we were trying to create a new communications team in a new organization. The situation was incredibly tragic, but in the midst of it all, I watched as a group of communicators came together in a way that still makes me emotional,” McKechney says.
Prior to that awful day, McKechney says he felt somewhat removed from his team, made up of communicators from the former health regions, as he tried to design a structure for this new provincial team.
“I kind of felt like I was on an island before the crash,” he notes. “But since that terrible time, when we all pulled together to help support the families of the victims, and handle the pressure of media requests coming in from around the world, I haven’t felt alone. I know that my team has my back, and I know that I don’t necessarily have to lead everything. My team can take pieces of work and run with them, and they know I have confidence in them and what they can do, because I saw it in action in the days following the crash, and every day since then.”
“I feel like we figured out who we were as a team, not just those in Saskatoon who were spending days at Royal University Hospital supporting the victims and their families, but everyone else on our team around the province as well, who stepped in to take the lead on certain things while others were pulled away from their regular work because of this extraordinary situation. It was a bit of a silver lining in a very tragic situation.”
McKechney learned some important lessons from the Broncos tragedy, first and foremost that answers to any questions can be found by focusing on what the patients and their families want.
“When we needed answers about what the families wanted, we went right to the families and asked. It was just that simple. If they wanted something, we made it happen; if they didn’t, we didn’t do it. We kept them first, always, and that led us in our work.”
Before he was married, and when he wasn’t studying, McKechney spent a lot of time travelling, taking some pretty exotic vacations.
“Between my undergrad and graduate studies, I did the Trans-Siberian Railway, travelling overland between Stockholm and Bangkok,” he says.
Now his vacations are more family-oriented as together, Kim and his wife Jeanne are raising two boys – Cohen, 7, and Parker, 5.
“The best vacations nowadays are those simple ones,” McKechney noted, “where I’m sitting on the deck at the lake surrounded by family and sipping on the latest craft brew I’ve stolen from the fridge.”
McKechney’s children are as into sports as he is, and he’s living somewhat vicariously through them right now.
“They swim, play flag football and soccer, and take part in track and field. Watching them do these things is immensely rewarding. It reminds me how much I enjoyed those things as a kid, and it helps me deal with my creaky bones,” he laughs.
His wife, Jeanne, he says, who works as a marketing specialist for Innovation Credit Union, is very patient and understanding, especially when it comes to his job and his quirks.
“I definitely deal with anxiety,” he says. “People don’t realize it when they meet me face to face that it’s an issue I have to manage, but I do. My family sees it, and the patience Jeanne has to have for that is immense. She really is my rock. Dealing with anxiety means I’m really outside my comfort zone almost all the time, so it really is her love and support that keeps me going.”
His anxiety does help him do his job better, though, he feels. “I have a significant amount of empathy for what people go through, what others don’t know is going on, and I try to keep that in mind when I’m dealing with others. I think a big part of health care is having that empathy, for patients and for staff.”