For Grand River Hospital leaders, Claudette DeLenardo and Robinne Hauck, decades of service have gone by in the blink of an eye. From beginning as frontline nurses to becoming senior leaders, Claudette – the Integrated Executive Director of Digital Services at GRH and St. Mary’s General Hospital – and Robinne – GRH’s Director of Surgery and Critical Care – have dedicated their careers to serving GRH’s patients and community.
As both reflect on their time at GRH (an impressive collective 74 years!), they recall their own journey and the two things that have kept them at GRH for so long: the passion and the people.
When did you start at GRH and how has your role evolved over the years?
Robinne (R): Wow! That takes me back 40 years to 1980. My first job was on 6ABC, which was a surgery unit that had patients from urology, plastic surgery, cataract surgery, ENT and more. Back then we wore a white dress uniform with a cap and we couldn’t wear pants; a lot has changed since then!
I spent 2 years working on that floor before I took an opportunity to work in ICU as staff nurse, then as a resource nurse. I spent the next few years re-educating myself – going to school and working with 3 children at home – getting my bachelor of nursing and masters in leadership. Later on I became the temporary manager of OR, moved to a role in cancer centre focusing on wait times, and became the Director of Surgery about 10 years ago. In 2015, I went to Cambridge Memorial Hospital for 1 year before returning to GRH as Director of Surgery, and in 2019 I added the Critical Care program to my team. When our Chief Nursing Executive left in 2019, I accepted the role on an interim basis for 3 months which turned into 1.5 years as a result of the pandemic.
Claudette (C): I started as a part-time nurse in 1987, working on GRH’s then call pediatric unit (which I changed to children’s inpatient unit), which was on the 9th floor main hospital at the time. I had come from SickKids where we were already using technology for labeling lab specimens. Early on, I wrote a very detailed care plan for a patient who required complex interventions. I remember my manager coming in to go over the paper Kardex during her rounds and after reviewing the documentation demanding “who wrote this!?” [laughs]. No one had done that before. My focus has always been on patient care and the patient experience.
Over the years I moved from a part-time to full-time nurse, to resource nurse and then as a nurse clinician. I then moved away from direct patient care to become a patient care coordinator and then director, all for the Children’s Program, and some adult ambulatory clinics with a little stint with the Emergency Department added in. From there I started to dabble in technology as the Program Director, Patient Portal taking on the development of 'My CARE Source', a first in Canada. After that very humbling experience, I changed course to become the Corporate Director of Quality and Planning before becoming the Executive Director of the PRISM health information system (HIS) implementation and now, in my final role, as Integrated Executive Director of Digital Services. When I look back, its been quite a journey; some of it occurring as a result of happenstance – but always with the goal of taking on challenging opportunities to grow and challenge myself.
What is your ‘why’?
R: I’ve always had a passion for health care; in 40 years, I’ve never not liked my job. Even through the tough times – even through the pandemic – I’ve wanted to help people, including my staff and our patients. I have a passion for change and change is important. I would say I have a passion for caring for people which includes working with great people and helping them grow and evolve together.
C: For me, it’s a passion for providing service to the community. I’ve brought that passion to every role I’ve had over the last 34 years. My nursing practice is grounded in caring for children and advancing therapeutic relationships holistically. In the roles in which I don’t have direct patient care I’ve found that when you can speak the language of a clinician, and empathize where they’re coming from, your credibility goes a long way. Even in the digital portfolio, I’m bringing my clinical background and passion for patient care and for my team which is so very important to me. It allows me to see the bigger picture of care in the hospital.
You made plans to retire in 2019, then each of you took on new roles. Then COVID happened. Why did you choose to stay and work throughout the pandemic?
R: Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to go. When you’ve worked for 40 years you have to plan your retirement. As the pandemic evolved, the opportunity to stay and take on new challenges was good for me. It wasn’t the right time to go; even now I feel it might not be the right time for the team but it’s time to change my focus and start caring for myself.
C: I still felt that I had something to offer in the digital portfolio and broader health care community. Digital never sleeps. There has been a lot of work to do to be able provide service to our patients and community throughout the pandemic and I’m glad I was able to stay to lead some of those efforts and to help mature my team.
What have you learned about GRH through our response to the pandemic? How has it changed our people?
R: We have great resilience and we can face anything. What we’ve done in the last year has been nothing short of amazing. Everyone has risen to the challenge. It’s been amazing to watch everyone – from frontline to senior leadership – respond to the pandemic. We have lots to learn about how people will come out of it on the other end; we need to allow time for healing. People have given a lot of themselves – working long hours in PPE, isolating from their families – to help support the frontline. I am proud of our collective response.
C: Our team is so resilient. I cannot believe the amount of resiliency, commitment and drive to change, more than ever before. Our teams have supported our patients and their families during the hardest time in history. Everyone has come together to support our patients and communities.
What will you remember the most?
R: The people. It’s going to be hard to not have the daily connection. Programs are big and, especially right now, you don’t always get the chance to connect like you used to. I’m missing the conversations. Even when things are tough, it’s not always serious, and I love to laugh with my teams. I will miss that. Over 40 years I’ve built a lot of relationships and I look forward to continuing these relationships in my retirement.
C: The people and the relationships – across the hospital, past and present, and in the community with our partners and vendors. Yes we have Zoom but it’s not the same. I miss the face-to-face in person connections. That’s just who I am. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to have personal friendships with staff.
What advice do you have for your teams and GRH team members in general?
R: Take on opportunities in different departments and learn something new; to help you grow. At the same time, embrace opportunities cautiously, so that don’t take on more than you can.
C: Build your professional toolkit – think of it as a quilt you weave together through the years to comfort you at the end. You don’t have to be an expert at everything. Remember that things will change, be open to change and have faith in the process. If you don’t agree, be an advocate for yourself and others. Take care of your people; our people are the single most important resource that we have. Have compassion and empathy – everyone has a story and we need to take time to listen to the story. Feed yourself – heart and soul.
What are you looking forward to in your retirement?
R: I have a lot of ideas! I’m going to start playing golf. I took lessons but never practiced because of work! It’s also been a lifelong dream of mine to learn to play the piano and I am getting a piano as a retirement gift from my family. I’d also love to volunteer in the community. That said, I’m going to spend the first few months decompressing and spending a lot of time at the cottage with my family and grandchildren. We have a third grandchild on the way this year!
C: There are a few things on the list. I have a lot of little projects to complete and I am looking forward to going out East to see my family; I haven’t held my grandson in over a year. In November my granddaughter was born. I get to be with her every day which is such a wonderful experience. To be honest, I’m tired and I am looking forward to be able to sleep through the night. The last five years has been intense with the HIS implementation and the pandemic. I’m looking forward to learning who I am again and learning new things like how to do an Irish jig – fun stuff like that.
Thank you, Robinne and Claudette, for the immeasurable impact you’ve had on the people and patients of GRH. We wish you all the best in your retirements!