Beth Vachon, Saskatchewan Health Authority’s vice president of Quality, Safety and Strategy, has always been passionate about quality improvement, focusing on ways to improve the way we deliver care and ensure safety. A specific incident had a profound effect on her and her drive to improve the quality of care that we provide.
Beth Vachon, Saskatchewan Health Authority vice president of Quality, Safety and Strategy
“A long-term care resident was very badly burned in a bathtub incident. Through that unfortunate event, I really learned about the importance of transparency and apologizing,” Beth says. “We couldn’t change what had happened for that resident and their loved ones, but we could learn from how that incident unfolded and how we must do things differently so that it would never happen again.”
From that moment, she focused on how healthcare providers and the organization could be more transparent and ensure that the right processes and procedures are in place so that our patients, residents, and staff are safe.
“After that incident, things started to change for the better, not only for me but for others in the organization around ‘How do we respond better when bad things happen?’ but also ‘How do we ensure that bad things don’t happen in the first place?’ That was a turning point for me in looking at how we can and need to do things better.”
Motivated by patient safety
Beth started her career in the health system as a nurse in Moose Jaw at the Valley View Centre before she moved to Swift Current to work as a general duty nurse at Palliser Regional Care Centre. She took on a number of different roles until becoming CEO of former Cypress Health Region. Since her time as a front-line nurse and throughout her 36-year career, her motivation to improve care has always been the patient.
“For me, it has always been about the patients we serve and providing an environment that makes them feel safe on every level, where they are treated with dignity and respect,” she says. “I want to ensure that every service we offer our patients is a quality service. That is what I aspire to and why I do what I do, from when I provided direct patient care, and I have carried that into my work in supervisory positions.”
When asked why she moved into management from front-line care, she credits her desire to make a difference in the quality of care we provide.
“I loved front-line nursing but felt like needed to be in roles where I could really make changes in quality improvement.”
An agent for change
Being a part of many different kinds of changes and configurations of what the health system looks like have contributed and shaped Beth to be able to contribute at this point in the evolution of our system.
“One of the most exciting things I have been able to be a part of in my career was leading the transition of the 12 regions to the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” she notes.
Beth says of her work with the transition team, “That was really exciting work to be involved in and I think the work we did as a team set us up well to move forward in a direction that we envisioned for the new organization.”
Beth is excited about the work that is being done as we create our provincial health organization and to be a part of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“What I appreciate most about being part of a new system is the ability to really shape, craft and create what a new organization can look like,” she says. “In the past we were tied to historical ways of doing business. What is most exciting right now is the ability to really dream. If we could start at the beginning and create a new system, what would it look like? We are at that exact spot right now. We have the ability to create and shape how we want our system to look and operate as we move forward.”
Beth believes that one of the most significant things that we are doing as a new organization is focusing on building a solid foundation for primary health care.
“We have been talking about this for many years. In the past, we didn’t really have the ability to bring consistency to primary health care because each region prioritized different things,” she says.
“Having the ability to really start to shape community health services and care close to home with networks and teams of providers wrapping care around the patient is one of the most exciting and important things that we will do in this new organization.”
Beth views this time of transition as the perfect opportunity to not only shape what we want the organization to look like, but also how we involve patients in that process.
“We are in a nice spot to ensure patients and families have a louder voice in our system and involve them in the organization’s structural design and interview panels. Our priority is to hear the patient’s voice in everything that we do and truly listen to them.”
Looking to the staff around the province as inspiration
Since assuming her role as vice president of Quality Safety & Strategy (QSS), Beth Vachon is greeted with something new every day.
“I am involved in many varied and interesting situations that I really enjoy not having a typical day,” she says, having recently returned from a tour of facilities in the Northern half of the province.
“What has been most evident through this process of amalgamation and my time visiting other facilities is that we have amazing talent throughout the entire province and amazing leadership across the board.”
Although she finds the vast provincial geography challenging, she is excited about finding the best practices from around the province. The best way of doing this is by being on the ground, visiting the facilities and meeting those who work there face-to-face.
“Being up north recently was a great experience. We were able to spend time in both the north-east and -west parts of Saskatchewan and had the opportunity to meet with staff in a variety of different locations, and spend time in numerous facilities,” she said.
What she valued most about being on the ground and present in a number of different locations was witnessing the best of what is going on around the province.
“It is an incredible opportunity to be present and see the amazing work taking place and the dedication to providing great care around the province,” she says. “We want to be able to bring consistency to that work and share those best practices across the province.”
One of the challenges she faces in her new role is taking the best practices and adapting them to the varied environments around the province.
“The environments across the province are so incredibly different. We recognize that we can’t have a cookie-cutter approach, but we can certainly standardize a number of things and then fit them to the environment for implementation.”
Beth also believes in the importance and value of the distributed leadership model, having recently moved back to Swift Current. “I think it’s important that there is leadership throughout the province. That was one of the principles that we wanted to make sure we stood by and that is happening. I think we are developing a geographically dispersed leadership team doing great work around the province.”
Return to Swift Current:
Beth is grateful to have the opportunity to lead her portfolio from Swift Current and continue to be close to family.
“My family is so important to me. I have a big extended family, three sons and five grandchildren,” Beth explains. “It is so great to be in this role and continue to be close to them.”
She attributes much of her ability to focus on her career while having three boys to her husband of 34 years. “We have shared responsibilities and he has always been extremely supportive of my career.”
When they get the chance they enjoy traveling together, one of her favourite places to visit being Quebec City because of its rich history.
“There is over 400 years of heritage there and they have maintained it so beautifully,” she describes. “They do a really nice job of telling the story of how Canada was formed and are very customer focused.”
“I love travelling and being around people,” Beth states. “But I also enjoy quiet time to myself.”
Beth spends her quiet time knitting, cooking, reading and gardening. “I love to knit. I knit all kinds of things and I also enjoy getting lost in a good book!”
Where do we go from here?
In her new position, Beth hopes to ensure that QSS has the right structure and the right resources to be able provide support to those in the front-line, where care happens.
“We are looking at quality and safety through a standardized lens, ensuring that the right supports are in place so that our staff are able to work in environments and with processes that allow for the right things to happen for everyone involved both staff and patients.”
QSS encompasses a wide scope and variety of programs including safety, strategy, clinical standards, First Nations and Métis health, academics and learning, patient experience, Senior Medical Officer and practitioner staff affairs.
“While the portfolio is wide and varied, there are a number of interconnections within each area,” Beth explains. “The executive directors and senior medical officer are all working really well together as we move things forward, and it really is the right mix because of the way the work is being accomplished.”
“I think our team has a significant opportunity to ensure that staff of the SHA have the right tools and processes in place to ensure quality and safe care every time they have an encounter with a patient and that it is safe for everyone.”