Sabine Mersmann, who began her tenure as chief executive officer (CEO) and president of the Pembroke Regional Hospital (PRH) on Nov 1, had no problem recognizing the majority of staff since she has been employed with PRH over the last 23 years following the retirement of outgoing CEO Pierre Noel.
Although she is quite familiar with the administrative and medical aspects of PRH, she knows there will be several challenges and opportunities as she works towards continuing and building some of the initiatives Mr. Noel and the board of directors worked on during his 16 years in that role.
“I am fortunate that Pierre (Noel) agreed to remain here in an advisory capacity until the end of the year so that hew can help answer any questions or follow up on issues that will may arise over that time,” she said.
It was that seamless transition of the outgoing CEO to the incoming CEO that the hospital's board of directors were looking for during the recruitment process. The CEO is in charge of an organization that employs 839 staff with an annual operating budget of $105,719,000 (2021/22) and includes the largest emergency room in the Ottawa Valley which recorded close to 30,000 visits in a catchment that includes most of the upper Ottawa Valley.
During her 23-year tenure at PRH, she has been involved with the implementation of new programs and new provincial policies in relation to health care. .
“After holding a series of progressive leadership roles over the past 23 years, I feel privileged to have been selected as the next President and CEO of the Pembroke Regional Hospital,” Mersmann said. “Over the years, our hospital has experienced great advancements in technology, significant improvements in the patient experience, continuous growth and many upgrades. I could not be more proud of our team and the work they have done collectively to ensure our community has the health care it needs and deserves,” she said.
She acknowledged the COVID pandemic that began in early 2020, and still has some lingering effects, presented several challenges in terms of staffing, admissions and other factors that PRH and other medical centres had to meet head on, and often with little background knowledge of the disease.
“Like the rest of Ontario, we were following provincial and federal recommendations and it was difficult at times as the nature of the virus seemed to be changing almost daily in the early days of the pandemic,” she said. “We were like many hospitals when it came to staffing issues and ensuring we were able to provide care to our patients. Now, we are in the process of returning to a sense of normalcy in terms of overall medical operations.”
|More importantly she led the COVID-19 response for the Pembroke Regional Hospital and served in regional roles on the Champlain incident command structure. She continues to support the development of the Ottawa Valley Ontario Health Team (OHT) as a member of the steering committee.
She noted one of the positive results of the pandemic was how a rural community adapted to the strain on resources through its Virtual Triage program. She is also very enthusiastic about the future of local health care and is excited to continue to be part of the hospital’s growth and the opportunities for greater local and regional collaboration and health system improvement through Ontario health teams.
As the new CEO and president, she will draw on her many management skills that includes planning and results-oriented leadership, human resource and financial management, quality improvement and risk management, policy and contract development, program and project management, and partnership building.
It certainly was a long way to become the head of PRH and her trip began when she completed her training as an occupational therapist in Germany. Born and raised an ocean away, she moved to Canada in 1986 and began her new life in Canada by working in various clinical roles with the Renfrew County Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).
For 13 years she worked not only for a county wide organization, but she had daily contact with Ottawa Valley residents and gained a solid understanding of the people and the challenges they face in a rural setting, but she saw the strengths and weaknesses of one part of the health care system, and saw opportunities to possibly improve any shortcomings.
“The biggest challenge for any healthcare organization is working within the financial realities of funding allotments from the upper levels of government,” she said. “It is not about throwing money at a problem as a means to fix it, but it means allocating the resources to best service the community.” Mersmann moved to Canada in 1986.
Her career at PRH began in 1999 when she was hired as director of the hospital’s new rehabilitation program.
Although medicine at PRH and the Ottawa Valley has become more virtual as a means to expand services to more rural areas , she helped to lead the major capital expansion in the early 2000s, while helping bring much-needed services such as cardiac rehab, systemic therapy and new programs to serve the geriatric population.
In 2012 she was appointed of vice-president of patient services, seniors, and community care where she has been a leader in quality and patient safety and was pivotal in the organization-wide implementation of lean management. She also helped bring MRI technology to the region, developed ways in which to embed patient and family advisors into the care processes and continued to find ways to form community partnerships through initiatives like health links and the early development work for the area’s Ontario health team.
Prior to being appointed as CEO and president, served as senior vice-president of clinical and support services, partnerships and integration.
Along the way, she was also a wife and the mother with two adult children and enjoys running, cycling and skiing, and is active in her community by serving on various boards.
She said the COVID pandemic was tragic for some area families who lost loved ones and she has nothing but praise for the 307 nurses and the 67 physicians, medical attendants and administrative staff who worked through the pandemic and put the care of their patients above all else.
“Myself and the board are proud of the efforts of everyone at PRH who worked throughout that time and did their best to make sure the residents had access to the vital medical services offered at PRH," she added.