Darlene Dasent
“The pandemic forced us to align all our financial resources in the face of a very arbitrary and fearsome disease,” writes Darlene Dasent, UHN’s Chief Financial Officer. “Almost overnight, we broke down traditionally siloed financing models and worked collaboratively to defeat the chaos of COVID-19. (Photo: UHN)

By Ms. Darlene Dasent

These are extraordinary times. Sometimes I take a minute and just breathe. I am not a person prone to dramatic tales. I deal in the world of numbers, but even the numbers are dramatic. In my entire career, I have never heard the words: "don't worry about the money, just make it happen." And, here we are, a year later, and we are still in the midst of lockdowns, COVID units, massive budgets and unprecedented costs that boggle the mind.

UHN is a vast organization. It takes a small army to manage the financial operations that support all aspects of UHN and keep the lights on while investing in our future. Add a global health disaster and suddenly we are moving at the speed of light and with very little information.

In those early days, we sent home as many of our staff as we could. If there was a way for people to continue operating efficiently offsite then we made it happen. However, many of our people could not work from home. Some continued to come in, every day, to do the work necessary to serve our patients. When I think of my team and how many of them put aside fears and uncertainties to do what needed to be done…they are also my heroes. I cannot give them enough praise or express enough gratitude. We locked down our hospitals, we opened COVID units, we redeployed within UHN and to long-term care centres, and in the middle of all that, we still needed to pay our bills and run the business.

'Almost overnight we broke down traditionally siloed financing models and worked collaboratively to defeat the chaos of COVID-19.'

UHN took on the huge responsibility of being a provincial resource for many aspects of this fight. The strength of our balance sheet and efficiency of our processes allowed us to manage several initiatives ranging from the personal protective equipment we needed to purchase for all our healthcare partners to the initial vaccination program.

In addition to the critical support role we are currently playing with Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health, Finance has essential functions that must continue in order to support UHN through, and past the pandemic. Although information was limited and constantly changing, forecasts and projections were essential to ensure sufficient cash flows to pay both staff and vendors, deliver key reporting elements related to COVID-19, and to meet the increasing demands for resources, equipment, and supplies.

Despite these challenges, this past year also ushered in some incredibly positive changes. The pandemic forced us to align all our financial resources in the face of a very arbitrary and fearsome disease. Almost overnight we broke down traditionally siloed financing models and worked collaboratively to defeat the chaos of COVID-19. Old and inefficient processes fell away and new, better ways of working and funding emerged almost immediately. Our cost structures had changed and we implemented a system that allowed funding to immediately follow the needs of the patient – through clinical care, research and education. Money was not going to be an obstacle to serving our patients.

Ensuring we have the financial strength to endure is my job, and as Chief Financial Officer it is fair to say I was already pretty busy. But, like everyone, the pandemic impacted all aspects of our lives. I am also the primary caregiver of two school-age children, and help support my elderly dad who was diagnosed with advanced cancer during Wave One. The pandemic has not been easy. Work and home life at times became inseparable and trying to manage homeschooling while taking virtual meetings presented its unique challenges. This experience has shocked me out of my everyday routine.


pandemic perspectives

UHN News is presenting a series of essays on the effects of a year of COVID-19 and its legacy for UHN's vision of A Healthier World.

'We must not lose sight of what we have gained, even amidst all the loss, because as tough as it has been, and continues to be, we have made some fundamental business shifts that I believe will continue to support healthcare in the future.'

I have some regrets about the things I did not do, and mostly it is the investments I didn't make in order to give myself a break. Another lesson that will stay with me is realizing how difficult it can be to really understand how another person is truly doing during these times. There are tremendous people working throughout UHN, many on the front lines and many in the background. Our teams stepped up and worked night and day, but, because of the circumstances it was more challenging to know if everyone was actually doing ok. You can ask, and as a leader, it is my job to ask. But, understanding what's really going on…trying to acknowledge and help...that was, and remains, a worry for me as we focus on supporting our people.

I could dwell on how complex this has been, we all could, but there have been rewarding moments too. I led a team that managed to pivot towards the crisis and employ their considerable skills to ensure TeamUHN had what they needed to face this pandemic head on. I am incredibly proud of all of them. And, I speak for all of us when I say we hope the flexible and innovative funding mechanisms we deployed during this crisis will remain in place. We must not lose sight of what we have gained, even amidst all the loss, because as tough as it has been, and continues to be, we have made some fundamental business shifts that I believe will continue to support healthcare in the future.

Ms. Darlene Dasent is Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at UHN.

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