Being a director on a hospital board is hard work. The hours are long, the learning curve is steep and the responsibilities are enormous.
But GRH board member Geoff Bellew has greatly enjoyed his nearly decade of volunteer service with Grand River Hospital’s board of directors.
Grand River Hospital’s board includes 19 directors of the corporation, 12 of whom are elected for three-year terms. The GRH board includes representation mostly from the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. Members of the board include individuals with a wide range of private and community expertise, who volunteer their time to lead the governance of Grand River Hospital.
Geoff has spent nearly four decades in financial services, technology and consulting services. He has also generously given his time to not-for-profit agencies and boards in Waterloo Region and nationally.
At GRH, Geoff has been an active participant in board matters. Since his appointment, he has served as chair of several committees and vice-chair of the board. In 2015, he was elected board chair, completing his term in 2017. Geoff sees the hospital as a very unique environment, unlike any other sector in which he’s been involved.
Why did you join the board?
The hospital is one of the pillars of the community. My family, including my six children, have been active users of the hospital. Not only it is a pillar, but it’s also an important element of my life. It was a chance for me to give back and also to learn.
What was your first impression of the GRH board compared to others in which you would have been involved?
My first impression was just how complex it was, how dense the acronyms and language were. And how it’s not like any other business model that I’ve experienced. I’ve experienced business models including the insurance industry which itself is far from simple. Compared to the complexity of health care, insurance is a walk in the park.
Hospitals in particular are very complex structures to govern over… who provides funding for them, the manner and type of funding, what services to provide, how to provide effective governance oversight into quality of care, being ever attentive to the community population’s needs and priorities while serving the Ministry of Health’s priorities. There are many moving parts internally and externally.
Through your time on GRH’s board, what are you proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been part of continuing to see our hospital grow, thrive and become an even more relevant asset in our growing community.
I’m proud of working with a superb leadership team, and equally proud of working with an amazing volunteer board and seeing first-hand how engaged and committed our hospital’s physicians and staff are to serving the community’s needs. There have been long hours, much more than I would have expected, but it’s been energizing and gratifying.
The pride comes out of knowing that the hospital is bringing true value to the community in many ways which are largely invisible but very important.
Can you describe one of these invisible values?
I’ve always taken for granted that clinical staff were competent and provided the tools of the job. I just took those things for granted. On the inside, you realize just how many systems and processes and issues need to be aligned to ensure clinicians get the tools, processes and support to do their job effectively. I simply and naively hadn’t grasped just how sophisticated it was.
What would you say to someone who’s looking at volunteering on a hospital board?
Those who would want to serve have to feel passionate about it being a community asset that needs to be nurtured and cherished. They have to be prepared to invest in the learning curve that’s required.
Whether they choose to become a leader within the board or merely an active board contributor, it’s a significant amount of work and commitment. The rest is just holding on and enjoying the ride, because it’s a fantastic ride... a very fast-paced and highly-energizing ride.
What will a potential board member get out of their experience?
Intrinsically, they’re going to get a high reward and personal satisfaction in knowing that they’re part of something that is serving all facets and demographics of the community.
The skills that one is going to be equipped with include anything around processes for procurement and compliance rules, making trade-off decisions, as well as learning how to collaborate with other hospitals and other health care providers and across the health care system.
Patient-centred care means you need to learn and govern in an environment where hierarchy and corporate structure alone don't dictate outcomes. Relationships and collaboration are equally important.