2017 IW Winners

Executive of the Year - Marathon

Joanne Berube

Joanne Berube

In Marathon, groupthink is a good thing.

Team-based decisions that set the daily direction to deliver the best primary care possible to North Shore residents are the hallmarks of Joanne Berube and the Marathon Family Health Team.

Since her arrival from Hamilton in 1999, the dedicated executive director is regarded by her award nominators as a stabilizing force and is heralded for developing a workplace culture of continuous quality improvement in health care.

“I wasn’t born and raised in Marathon but I certainly feel this community is my home. I feel I belong here,” said Berube.

Known for her strong work ethic and wide-ranging skill set, Berube’s nominators call her the “main architect” in the evolution of the health team that’s achieved recruiting success and populated their professional roster with nurses, a dietitian, social worker, epidemiologist and other support staff.

In 2009, the Marathon Family Health Team received the Family Practice of the Year Award from the Ontario College of Family Physicians, recognizing its accomplishments and innovation in rural delivery.

For Berube, success is difficult to measure.

“I asked myself: can I foresee that what we’re doing is sustainable for the future? Yes, I can.”

It’s built on an interdisciplinary medical team that works together and is backed by an innovative and entrepreneurial-minded administrative team that’s committed to a higher quality of care.

Prior to her arrival in the town of 3,200, the lack of physicians threatened to close the local hospital.

A small group practice was established and Berube was brought in handle its administration, freeing up the medical staff to focus on patient care.

“That was great for me because I love the operational aspect of primary care. We were growing this facility around what their vision was of having an ideal practice.”

A key driver is their daily adherence to consensusbased decision making.

“The model is evident at all our meetings. We set the direction for where we want to go and we all agree to that,” said Berube. “If we’ve decided that this is right for our community, it’s right for our patients, and it’s right for our staff, then we’re all committed to make it a success.”

Fully embracing the small town life means volunteering at the humane society, working on economic development projects, and helping organize the popular Summer Festival.

“If I can help out in some way, I love to do that,” said Berube. “I really direct my passion toward health care, which is where I’m comfortable.”

Six years ago, Berube became a patient for the first time.

The diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer led to a double mastectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments both in Marathon and Thunder Bay, four hours away.

Armed with a laptop, she worked through her ordeal, sometimes remotely, providing inspirational leadership to her colleagues.

The experience gave her a fresh perspective and greater appreciation of the health team.

It underscored the importance of retaining vital services and made her question what more can be done to provide more community supports for patients who have to travel out of town.

“That was the big message, the struggles our residents will face if they have to travel to access care.”

An accepted fact of life is that recruiting and retaining health-care professionals will always be a nagging challenge in Marathon. It’s something she’s learned to accept as people move on with new career paths.

“Are you able to easily adapt to those changes and incorporate that into the bigger picture? Having that ability to adapt, to change, even on a dime, and still follow in the direction you want to go, is what you want to offer.”