You Only Retire Twice

Health-care expert Lois Kozak returned as interim CEO of Englehart & District Hospital so it could make an important transition a success

A peek at the résumé of Lois Kozak reveals quite the distinguished health-care career. Kozak began her journey as a registered nurse more than 35 years ago and rose through the ranks at Ontario’s Englehart & District Hospital, eventually taking on management duties, including roles as chief nursing officer and chief executive officer.

“The career of health care is very exciting,” Kozak says. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my career and I have had the ability to seize opportunities throughout it, so I am one of the lucky ones,” Kozak says. “In a small facility there are so many more opportunities than people realize, allowing room for professional growth and ability to influence change.”

RECOVERY DATA

A look at metrics of the hospital’s year-to-date results as of October 2015

182

Inpatients

2,679

Emergency room visits

2,893

Lab outpatients

1,401

Diagnostic imaging outpatients

54

Physiotherapy outpatients

7,985

Population served in the catchment area

So when Kozak decided to hang up her scrubs and retire in 2011, she had accomplished enough that her legacy was forever instilled in the hospital.

However, retirement did not last as long. Kozak was persuaded to return to her CEO role on an interim basis in 2014 while the organization was going through integration with neighbouring Kirkland District Hospital.

“The hospital was exploring the feasibility to integrate with Kirkland and the CEO had accepted a position in a different field,” Kozak says. “So the board asked if I could step in until they found a full-time CEO. I had to think about it because I was in retirement mode and I knew what the job entailed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to run this hard again, but I love this little hospital and love the community so I accepted.”

Five months later, Kirkland District also found itself without a CEO and asked Kozak to take on the dual position for its hospital as well. Since both hospitals were integrating, it made sense for Kozak to take on the role until they could find a full-time CEO for both hospitals.

“The board of directors needed time to make a decision they were comfortable with in recruiting so they didn’t make a rush-decision under pressure,” Kozak says. The organizations successfully recruited Gary Sims as their full-time CEO. Sims is now leading both organizations and their partnership, the Blanche River Health Partners.

With Sims on board as the first employee of the new partnership, Kozak began working with him to help make the transition a smooth one. “We started working together and some of the major decisions I am making in my last few months will involve him,” she says. “He is the one who has to live with them, so it’s important he has input.”

Since coming back to the CEO role, Kozak has implemented some new policies but mostly has worked to bring both hospitals under the same umbrella. For example, if new legislation comes out that has an impact on hospitals, she works to create one policy and apply it across both sites.

“In some cases, we have to alter processes because our manpower is not exactly identical but we adapt the policy to both sites,” Kozak says. The two hospitals now share a variety of functions such as infection control, occupational health, an integrated finance person, IT systems, and both chiefs-of-staff have been working collaboratively.

“That’s not always easy to do, but in this case, they are working very well together,” Kozak says. “I am a firm believer that communication is the key to everything. People need to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The whole premise behind our integration opportunity is that we believe it will improve the quality of patient care.”

Kozak knows that there is some trepidation for workers at both hospitals, which is why she works hard to make every decision a win-win.

“I hold town hall meetings with staff to talk about what’s going on and get input from them. Very often, your best ideas come from your front-line people.”

“It can’t be one organization gets everything at the expense of the other,” Kozak says. “There has to be a win across both sites and that has to be transparent to everyone. To help facilitate that, I hold town hall meetings with staff to talk about what’s going on and get input from them. Very often, your best ideas come from your front-line people.”

In December 2015, Kozak went back to retirement, only this time she planned to do things differently. In addition to travelling, curling, and cross-country skiing, she plans to volunteer a great deal of her time helping her community.

“I don’t want to be this busy again, but I realized I did miss the people and the business when I was retired last time,” she says. “I joined the Board of Northern College, I belong to the Community Futures Organization, and I belong to the Temiskaming Foundation. I enjoy people and making a difference in people’s lives.  These activities will help me keep my mind busy and professional growth growing.”

Lois Kozak’s Guiding Principles

The former CEO share three tactics for succeeding in health care

WORK AS A TEAM
“You need to listen to the people you work with. And I mean on every level. I’m not a big believer in hierarchy so to me every department is as important as the next one.”

BE OPEN TO CHANGE
“Health care has changed in many ways, such as technology, which has catapulted us to the future, but also driven the cost up immensely.”

PLAY THE POLITIC GAME
“Health care is very political. In some ways it does hold us back from progress,but you need to work within that political system.”