Andrew McLetchie’s career in health care has been good preparation for now having responsibility for most of the clinical services for nearly two-thirds of the geographic area of Saskatchewan.
“I don’t know if I really planned out my career in that way, but I’m fortunate to have been in places where there were opportunities,” said McLetchie, Vice-President Integrated Northern Health, who started his post-university career in January 1998 as a Registered Nurse at the hospital in Big River.
Andrew McLetchie, Vice-President Integrated Northern Health, hikes in Meadow Lake Provincial Park. His sense of adventure means he spends time exploring both northern Saskatchewan and other countries.
Originally from central Alberta, Big River provided McLetchie the opportunity for a permanent position when there were not many to be found.
Over the next decade, he had a nomadic existence that included stops in Prince Albert, Dublin, Ireland, and Ottawa. He spent time working in corrections and hospitals, getting his Masters of Health Administration from the University of Ottawa in 2003.
It was during the internship portion of the Masters program when he ended up back in Saskatchewan. He was able to explore how integrated systems such as health regions operated versus a single hospital. He worked with the former Saskatoon Health Region, getting experience in a variety of areas, including work on a renal program project and purchasing systems.
“I got the opportunity to get my hands dirty and see management at that more senior level. It really confirmed the idea that none of what we do in health care is done in isolation,” McLetchie said.
Following his practicum, he worked in Lethbridge, Alberta, before his first management opportunity came in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. He spent the next six years in a variety of positions with increasing responsibility in British Columbia’s Northern Health Region. Restructuring resulted in him seeking new opportunities back in Saskatchewan. He was the Director of Integrated Health Services with the former Mamawetan Churchill River Health Region before he became the Chief Executive Officer in October 2011.
“It wasn’t that I deliberately didn’t look at an urban setting, but it seemed that the opportunities available were more in the rural or northern communities,” McLetchie said about his career path, adding that there are challenges in northern communities, but also opportunities. “You are connected to your smaller team, and you have to work together to find solutions. You have no choice but to work together and have a collaborative approach.”
Since assuming the position of Vice President Integrated Northern Health, he has been working with his dyad partner, Dr. Stephanie Young, Physician Executive for Northern Integrated Health, to build the leadership team, and learn more about the communities in their management area.
Andrew McLetchie, Vice-President Integrated Northern Health (left) listens to a discussion about priorities for continuing care with Lisa Major and Neal Sylvestre, Executive Directors for Continuing Care, at a planning meeting in September 2018.
“It has been a steep learning curve, getting an understanding of the communities in the Integrated Northern area that I wasn’t familiar with. It has been trying to get out there and meet people,” he said.
The challenging part is dealing with the geography of the new area. It means managing and working with people that I’m not seeing as regularly. The executive directors (EDs) are spread out from Buffalo Narrows, to Maidstone and North Battleford, Melfort and St. Brieux. Stephanie is in La Ronge; McLetchie and two EDs are based in Prince Albert.
“You have to find a way to bridge that geography and still make sure services are still being managed.”
There is also a learning curve going from a former health region with hundreds of employees to leading an area with clinical services provided by thousands of employees, said McLetchie.
“I think getting the team in the north together, and getting that team working well together, for Stephanie and I, is probably the biggest success. That’s what we will build off of for our future work,” he said.
“It is an engaged team. They are interested and want to see this succeed. To that end, they want to find ways to work together positively. And I’d say that as part of the northern team, as well as at the provincial level with the executive and senior leadership teams.”
Also new is the shared responsibility with Dr. Young, as part of the new model to have physician leaders more directly involved.
“Stephanie and I had the benefit, probably more than any of the other dyad partners, of working together previously,” he said, referring to their time in the former health region where he was CEO and she was the Senior Medical Officer. “Right now we are still more jointly involved in a lot of things. It is an evolving process. We’re still figuring out what pieces each other should be taking the lead on, and how the other will be consulted.”
McLetchie is looking forward to what is next for the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Integrated Northern Health team. He said there is excitement about major projects, such as the move into the new Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford. He is also looking forward to the result of the work being done in partnership with Ministry of Health and Saskatchewan Medical Association to develop a demonstration site for a new model of physician-led primary care in Prince Albert and Shellbrook.
With his experience in both northern Saskatchewan and British Columbia, he also understands the importance of building partnerships with First Nations communities and leadership, to find solutions and opportunities to collaborate to ensure timely access for everyone requiring health care services.
“That’s the exciting thing in this role; there is that feeling that you can work with the teams to look at the high level and ask how are we currently functioning, how are we meeting patients’ needs, and how do we improve it to make it better?” he said. “The current focus on primary care and the health networks, that excites me. It’s the idea that we can do things differently at the community level, and how do our current services impact the health of the population. And knowing what we know about that, what can be done differently to make the slow steady improvements in how we deliver care to hopefully better meet patient needs and is sustainable.”
Andrew McLetchie stands outside the Ta Prohm Temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia. His sense of adventure means he spends time exploring both northern Saskatchewan and other countries.
Andrew McLetchie enjoys the view on a hiking trail near Anglin Lake. His sense of adventure means he spends time exploring both northern Saskatchewan and other countries.