Member Spotlight: Alan Katz

Interview with Alan Katz, Board Chair, 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario)

by Todd Stepanuik

T. Stepanuik: Provide an overview of your healthcare leadership journey and your involvement on volunteer boards

A. Katz: After graduating from the University of Toronto’s Master of Health Science – Health Administration program, I was fortunate that my first position was at the Timmins and District Hospital. I was exposed to so much in a very short time: everything from supporting the planning phase of a new construction project, to amalgamating three boards; and coordinating the local fundraising campaign.

From there, I moved to leadership positions at the Muskoka/Parry Sound District Health Councils, the Northeastern Ontario Regional Cancer Centre (Sudbury), the Deep River and District Hospital, the Health Care Network of Southeastern Ontario (Kingston), and Riverside Health Care in Fort Frances, Emo and Rainy River. I am presently the principal of an independent health system planning consultancy.

I currently chair Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario (3SO), chair the Southeast Regional Stroke Steering Committee, and I have recently joined the Board of Ontario 211 Services.

T. Stepanuik: What has been one of the most important lessons you have learned during your career?

A. Katz: By far, one of the most important lessons I have learned is

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to stay true to my personal values. Your career is only part of your life – it is vitally important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I have been exceptionally blessed to have an incredible partner and two amazing children who have supported me throughout my career.

T. Stepanuik: How has or how does ACHE help you address the challenges you face?

A. Katz: ACHE as an organization and its Chapters helps provide incredible educational programs, and networking opportunities to develop crucial leadership skills and to help members stand out in a dynamic healthcare environment.

ACHE was instrumental in helping the Health Care Network of Southeastern Ontario hold a fulsome discussion on experiences with health system integration with Jim Cody. At the time, Mr. Cody was the Veterans Affairs Medical Centre Director in nearby Syracuse, NY. Health care executives from across our region appreciated learning about the VA’s transformational journey lead by Ken Kizer from 1995 to 2000.

T. Stepanuik: What has been you most rewarding career-related experience?

A. Katz: There have

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been several, but I’ll focus on two:

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the formation of 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario – 3SO which readers will learn about later in this Spotlight); and the creation of a multi-site, community oncology clinic network across Northeastern Ontario. The goal of the network was to bring systemic treatment closer to home for the residents of a large, predominantly rural region. This served to reduce precarious travel while maintaining access to high-quality chemotherapy services.

T. Stepanuik: How have you seen the healthcare management field change during your career?

A. Katz: I have seen monumental growth in the use of evidence and population-based data to support health system planning and delivery, which is great. Back in the day, we used to have to wait for months and in some cases years for information to help drive change. Change is still challenging – but at least we now have better and timelier access to quantitative and qualitative information to support our improvement efforts. Of course, some suggest we collect too much information, which is motivated by an unrelenting drive for elusive system accountability (whatever that means).

Hopefully, the pendulum will soon swing back to reflect a workable state that favours investments in improving actual community care than investments in improving performance metrics.

Also noteworthy is the meaningful and deliberate inclusion of patient and family voices at all levels of the health care delivery system. This was a strong component of health system planning back in the district health council era in Ontario and is just as important in the present day.

T. Stepanuik: Who have been your mentors?

A. Katz: In one way or another, everyone who I have ever worked with, worked for, or who has worked for me (either directly or directly) has been a mentor by providing me with key insights, knowledge and guidance throughout my career.

The entire senior leadership team of Montréal’s Royal Victoria Hospital – lead by Stephen Herbert – provided exceptional formative mentorship during my administrative residency. The late Ken Moore provided me with mentorship in my first position at the Timmins and District Hospital. Finally, Peter Deane, at the Muskoka and Parry Sound District Health Councils was probably most responsible for shaping me into the health system planner and communicator.

T. Stepanuik: What advice would you give to young careerists starting their career in healthcare administration?

A. Katz: In the ever-changing healthcare environment, the profession of healthcare management needs strong leaders who will rise to the challenges of today and carry organizations into the future. I would suggest joining a professional body like the ACHE and participating in chapter activities. Seek out mentors from various health care sectors to expand your perspective, never stop learning, and always keep reading!

T. Stepanuik: What books are you reading at the moment?

A. Katz: I have recently completed Misbehaving by Richard M. Thaler; Managing the Myths of Health Care: Bridging the Separations between Care, Cure, Control, and Community by Henry Mintzberg; and Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga.

I am about to start New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.

T. Stepanuik: You currently serve as Chair of the 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario) Board. Tell us about the organization and how you provide leadership.

A. Katz: 3SO was established in 2008 as a not-for-profit, non-share-capital, shared service organization with a primary mandate to provide supply chain services to the member hospitals of Southeastern Ontario. 3SO objectives are to improve service levels and maximize supply chain efficiencies, resulting in savings for members that will be reinvested in direct patient care.

3SO has been the recipient of the GHX Canadian Operational Excellence Award three times since 2013 and in February 18, 2018, we celebrated exceeding $100,000,000 in cumulative savings for member hospitals since our inception.

Back in 2008, I helped lead the creation of the organization during my term as managing director of the Health Care Network of Southeastern Ontario. After several years away, I was recruited onto the board as an independent director and have served as chair since February of 2016.

As chair, my role is to work with an exceptionally talented group of directors to focus on the organization’s mission, vision and values and develop a robust strategic plan in a complex fiscal and geopolitical environment. As we recently recruited a new chief executive officer, my job is to support his onboarding and ensure that the board’s main horizonal objectives are achieved while he explores innovative ways to continue to improve its value proposition and expand 3SO’s service offerings to our hospital members.

T. Stepanuik: How has serving on this board or other boards changed or influenced your perspective on leadership?

A. Katz: I have had the privilege of working in several positions where I have provided board support to regional groups of trustees, executives and clinical leaders, so I have seen leadership from multiple perspectives. This has helped me gain deep insight into how leaders work with other leaders to pursue common, system-wide goals while ensuring that individual corporate missions are preserved and furthered.

In a trustee role, it has also helped me appreciate how to moderate requests of management. In the past, I have seen some executive leaders in trustee positions make unrealistic requests of leaders and management.

T. Stepanuik: You began your career back in 1989. What attracted you to the healthcare field specifically?

A. Katz: I entered the healthcare field with Resusciar Paramedical Ambulance in Montreal in the early 1980s. After several years as a front-line provider in such an incredibly raw, challenging, and diverse primary care environment, I decided to pursue a Master of Health Science – Health Administration degree at the University of Toronto, intent on returning to a leadership career in the pre-hospital setting. However, after completing a six-month administrative residency at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, I transitioned to a career track in several rewarding health system planning and organizational leadership roles.

I keep in touch with many of my former pre-hospital care peers. I am particularly excited with the incredible potential community paramedicine is contributing to the continuum of primary care in many parts of Canada.

Alan Katz is Chair of the Board of 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario).