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'Coming home': New Southlake president talks vision for future

Newmarket native Dr. Paul Woods talks about his experiences in the first months in the top job at the hospital, and his drive to improve the patient's 'journey' through the care system
New Southlake Regional Health Centre president and CEO Paul Woods.

Southlake Regional Health Centre president and CEO Dr. Paul Woods is seeing some familiar sights in his first weeks on the job. 

Raised in Newmarket, Woods has travelled across both Canada and the United States in a decades-long medical career. 

But being back in Newmarket and seeing his old high school and familiar stores from his office window gives him a different feeling.

“The sense of coming home is something that I’ve really appreciated,” he said. “If I can expend my energy, and my passion, and my ability to make things better for a place that has meaning to me personally, it’s overpoweringly appealing.”

Woods said he is settling in nearly three months into his job leading Newmarket’s largest health-care organization, and he hopes to bring about positive change in the role. He began in the position Jan. 3. 

After growing up in Newmarket and attending Huron Heights Secondary School, he attended Western University in London. He would go on to hold numerous leadership roles in health settings across North America, including the London Health Sciences Centre, Albert Health Services, the University of Calgary’s Department of Family Medicine and Trinity Health in the United States.

Woods said he is driven to create positive change wherever he goes, rather than settle for doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting improvement. 

“This is sort of a culminating opportunity for me, a capstone career opportunity,” Woods said. “For 25 years, what really drove me into leadership was sort of a dissatisfaction with the way things were, wherever I was … I just recognized that we could do better in terms of meeting patient needs, providing a better patient experience and be more sustainable.”

He said there should be an effort to integrate care and ensure a cohesive frame around a patient's entire journey rather than "individualized transactions" that seem separate.

“There’s an enormous opportunity in Ontario,” he said.  “There’s some good scaffolding there, that we can actually build a different kind of health system that’s built around the journey patients have.”

In his first several weeks, Woods said he has taken time to tour the facility and started connecting with staff to get an idea about the hospital.

“There’s a powerful gravitational pull that executives have to sit in their offices and forget about what the purpose of their organization actually is,” he said, adding he has taken time to tour “just to make sure we as executives, including me, never lose sight of what it is we actually do.”

That has included seeing the state of the emergency room. Though it is regarded for relatively short wait times until patients first see a doctor, it has remained strained by the hospital not having nearly enough beds to meet the increased population demands. 

“What people experience with that overcrowding is sort of a symptom of a hospital that’s too small for the number of patients that we have,” Woods said. 

But staff are doing what they can with the limited space while waiting for progress on a new second hospital site, he said. 

“Our people do a really good job of moving patients through, but there are just some constraints that you can’t get past.”

Woods said Southlake is exploring ways to expand space in its emergency department.

Southlake board chair Marilee Harris said they are thrilled to have Woods in the role, chosen after a months-long search process.

“His visionary thinking and collaborative approach is exactly what our organization needs to overcome the challenges facing Ontario’s health-care system,” Harris said in a prior news release.

Southlake has always done a great job of serving its community over its 100-year history, Woods said. He noted that his own family has received treatment at various points in their lives and received great care.

“That’s going to continue on my watch,” he said. “My brand is my focus on great care experiences, patient safety, quality of outcomes and you’re going to continue to get that, and a message that I want to pass on to the community is we feel very supported here, and it’s a great feeling.

”We’re going to continue to bring it. We’re going to be creative. We’re going to be courageous. We’re going to continue to give great care."