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Nurses checking patient status at Humber River Health, the first fully digital hospital in North America.Provided

If there’s something more nerve-wracking for a nursing student than starting their first placement, it’s probably starting it during a pandemic. But that’s exactly what Khemraj Persaud had to do at Humber River Health in the thick of COVID-19.

“We were very anxious, but the nurses were so welcoming,” says Persaud, now a registered nurse there. “And management was always on top of things, getting around as much as possible and checking in with everyone to see how we were doing and asking how they could help us. And they always follow through, which is something I really appreciate.”

By now, employees at Humber River Health are accustomed to seeing management on the units. Barb Collins is a nurse by background, and she became president and CEO in 2016 after leading the hospital redevelopment project. Since then, much has changed – and to the employees’ benefit.

For one thing, hospital management began coaching the leadership team to regularly make rounds with staff and in departments. Collins meets her own staff at least once a month. “We ask: what’s working well, what’s not working, what tools do you need, is somebody helping you in such a way that we should thank them for you? And we act on that,” Collins explains.

“If you can’t get your job done effectively, it makes you feel less engaged,” she adds. “So we really fix on solving what we call the pebbles” – the little irritants that can get in the way.

Collins also embraces a culture of open communication – something that really helped keep engagement high and momentum going during the pandemic. In fact, even then, Collins says staff and physician engagement levels were over 70 per cent.

The hospital itself is a draw as well. Humber River Health is North America’s first fully-digital hospital and placed second in energy efficiency among more than 280 large, urban acute care hospitals from Canada, the United States and Europe. A staggering 85 per cent of the rooms in the 1.8-million-square-foot centre are designed for single patient occupancy.

“Moving to a new facility and having a brand-new environment with brand-new equipment was certainly a great feature for our people,” says Collins. “They say, ‘I can’t believe I have such a beautiful building to work in.’”

Despite its size and the high number of single-patient rooms, Humber River Health runs at maximum efficiency through a digital command centre. Artificial intelligence predicts activity volume and ensures proper patient flow; it also alerts staff if a patient is starting to get into trouble.

“At no time during the pandemic did we ever have any hallway health care, and I think our teams really respected that,” says Collins. “And we have decreased hospital harm by almost 50 per cent compared to other hospitals. Staff and physicians are aware of that; patients are becoming aware of that. And that drives pride and workplace engagement.”

In every orientation, Collins asks staff to live by three values: compassion, professionalism and respect. While Persaud says he appreciates the ease that technology lends to his work life, it’s the culture at Humber River Health that has impressed him the most.

“The way they treated me when I came here is something I want to reciprocate – to make students feel more comfortable and realize that this is a really good organization to be with,” he says. “It really sets the standard of what a workplace environment should be.”

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