2012 Winners

Thunder Bay | Executive of the Year

Dr. Susan Griffis

Susan Griffis

Diabetes is growing at near-epidemic proportions in Northern Ontario.

Getting on top of, and staying ahead of, this chronic disease is the life's work of Dr. Susan Griffis.

The CEO of the Thunder Bay-based Northern Diabetes Health Network (NDHN) has been a strong voice in advocating for better access to quality health care for people with diabetes through early diagnosis, treatment and management of this disease, especially its most vulnerable.

Established in the early 1990s, Griffis has shepherded a rapid expansion of programming in coordinating diabetes care across the region and Ontario.

"Back in '92, we called it a network and people laughed at us," said Griffis.

It wasn't about us, but about the programs networking with each other."

Griffis has been a champion in growing that network from seven adult diabetes programs to 50.

"Those programs were existing on their own and we were a brand new organization that came in, worked with them and expanded them."

With a staff of 15 at offices in Thunder Bay, Timmins and Burlington, Griffis' supporters say she has changed the face of diabetes health care in Northern Ontario.

She's been described as a role model, a mentor, a skilled negotiator, an inspirational leader and a compassionate patient advocate.

"I've always been energetic and passionate about what I do," said the mother of three grown children.

"I go to work so I can see some outcomes at the end of the day. It's truly about setting priorities and having the motivation to achieve what you can."

Her award nominators credit her commitment and dedication for delivering services to more than 100,000 people in Northern Ontario and creating more than 100 health-care positions.

Griffis is lauded for her ability to transcend cultural and geographical challenges.

Born on a Manitoulin Island beef farm, her small town roots are mirrored in her professional values.

In her travels across the North, Griffis is respectful and mindful of not dictating a bureaucratic top-down, one-window solution.

"You can't lump communities together. Even on the Island, Manitowaning is completely different from Mindemoya, and you have to respect that difference."

To that end, she is supportive of grassroots solutions to cut wait times and improve efficiencies that meet local needs.

The network's mandate expanded in 2001 to administer pediatric diabetes services across Ontario.

Today, through the Network of Ontario Pediatric Diabetes Services, more than 90 per cent of all children receive care through 34 specialized programs.

In 2006, NDHN's responsibilities were broadened to tackle diabetes in Aboriginals where its prevalence is three times higher than non-Aboriginals.

The Northern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, a prevention and awareness-based project, has engaged more than 200 communities and organizations.

Over the years, Griffis has been renowned for cultivating numerous partnerships in developing educational resources, public awareness campaigns and accredited academic certificate programs for health-care providers.

While she cites the enthusiasm of her colleagues, clients and board members for keeping her motivated, Griffis said there have been profound moments that have been satisfying.

"Not long ago there was a patient who said, "Your organization is one of the few, if only, that supports people with diabetes and doesn't blame us for all the healthcare costs." That really makes you reflect and say, we have to remember why we're here."

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