CHEO celebrates 50 years of ‘care, compassion and innovation’

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is celebrating its 50th “birthday” on May 17.

To mark the milestone the organization is bringing back the Teddy Bear Picnic fundraiser on June 16, which has been on hiatus since 2020. 

Each year CHEO cares for 500,000 patients and their families, and is honouring the anniversary by reflecting on the obstacles its overcome and what’s next. 

The history of the nation’s capital and CHEO is intertwined, president and CEO of the hospital, Alex Munter, told CityNews Ottawa in an interview.

“The effort to open the children’s hospital in Ottawa was a grassroots effort, it was reflected by community support,” he said. “And that’s another thing that’s been constant throughout the 50 years, the strong support of our community.”

In the 1960s, a group of mothers and paediatricians started campaigning for a children’s hospital for the nation’s capital, ultimately being successful at lobbying the Ontario government. At the time the hospital cost $21 million and was finished in 1974.

Since its inception, the advances in medicine, surgery and pharmacology have changed dramatically. CHEO has been a leader in mental health, genetics and emergency medicine research, and has led efforts to change care for not only in Canada but around the world.

“Today, compared to 50 years ago, it’s a more complex world,” Munter said. “We have more pressures on children and families than we did 50 years ago. We have new diseases that didn’t exist.”

This pressure is one staff are acutely aware of and are constantly trying to adapt to the health landscape. 

Although the milestone is a cause for celebration, it is also a reflection on the difficult periods the hospital found itself in.

As recently as the fall of 2022, CHEO was going through the biggest surge of viral illnesses in its history.

At this time, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu were pushing the limits of CHEO. The “historic” moment, Munter said, saw staff mobilizing and putting the safety and care of their patients at the forefront.

The birthday is also being used to highlight the “compassion and innovation” of staff and physicians, Munter said. CHEO has impacted the community through “millions of stories.”

One of those stories is of a young woman, who came to Canada as a refugee in the late ’90s. During her upbringing, she was cared for at CHEO and is now working to become a physician at the hospital. 

As CHEO grows to support Ottawa, the next 50 years will be about expanding the space, modernizing the facilities and using cutting-edge technology and research for children’s care. 

“We’re going to kick off those next 50 years, with a redevelopment of our campus and using technology and innovation to improve outcomes for children’s health and to respond to the new and different environment,” he said.

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