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Lorraine ThomasCentral to the transformative journey of fostering inclusion, diversity, equity accessibility and anti-racism (IDEAA) at Holland Bloorview is Lorraine Thomas, manager, IDEAA. With a rich background in equity work and a passion for social justice, her leadership and vision have been instrumental in bringing about meaningful change and building a more equitable and inclusive environment for our community.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your primary role at Holland Bloorview?

I am a health professional leader with 24+ years of experience advocating for community health, and client and family programs focused on unity, health literacy, and inclusion for under-serviced populations.  As manager, inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and anti-racism at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, I am responsible for the development of authentic and responsive strategies to promote a healthy and equitable workplace.

How did you end up working at Holland Bloorview and what keeps you inspired to continue working at HB?

When I started working at Holland Bloorview twenty-two years ago, I originally worked in therapeutic recreation where I coordinated programming in multi-sensory environments (MSEs) or Snoezelen rooms. Later, as a family support specialist in the client and family integrated care team I provided education and resources to families across the pediatric lifespan. I was Holland Bloorview’s health literacy lead for over a decade and developed an organizational framework to create accessible plain language documents for clients and families via trained family and youth reviewers sourced through the hospital’s family leadership program.  This led to being on the planning committee for the first health literacy symposium (2017) co-sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, the University Health Network and the Canadian Health Literacy Patient Engagement Network. 

From the very beginning, I applied a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens.  In all three roles, my work opened up the conversation around how we talk with and engage families and clients, and the importance of providing health information in a way that is accessible to all.

Understanding cultural context within personal and professional relationships and how one expresses oneself, has always fascinated me. One of my identities is as a hard-of-hearing/deaf person, so there is the aspect of communication from a sensory perspective and the framing of disability and ableism in healthcare and healthcare leadership.   I’m originally from Trinidad, so had the immigrant experience of being a racialized woman navigating the healthcare space.  

The IDEAA role allows me to integrate all those professional experiences towards creating a holistic and compassionate lens that will enable a healthy team and support the evolution of socially accountable care, as outlined in our strategic plan HB2030.

As the manager of the IDEAA office, what does a typical day look like for you?

On a given day I can wear many different hats. In many instances, IDEAA work requires a change management strategy. This necessitates a 360 degree approach to understanding how the actions we take affect all groups, given that IDEAA work by subject matter can also be emotional.

For example, I could be providing consultation about a new program, having a one-on-one dialogue with a colleague, charing meetings for the three sub-committee meetings for the IDEAA task force which include education, data action and accessibility, participating in meetings with external system partners where we’re actively collaborating and sharing information on how to create a more equitable healthcare experience for all.

Some specific tasks include:

  • Co-creating and/or updating policies and procedures that advance equity, belonging and anti-oppression at all levels of the organization such as the new Workplace Accommodation Policy and Emergency Response Planning for employees with disabilities (April 2023) and the Smudging Policy (February 2024).
  • Representing Holland Bloorview at local and regional health system planning tables including Kids Health Alliance EDI Community of Practice, BlackNorth Initiative, TAHSN Anti-Racism committee, University of Toronto Temerty School of Medicine DiVAC.
  • Producing relevant literature reviews and needs assessments, presentations, briefing notes, and other written materials as needed by the board, senior management team, new staff orientations, family and youth leaders.
  • Conducting individual and team-based consults to support IDEAA knowledge and capacity building as a reliable subject matter expert, liaison, and facilitator around social, racial and disability justice issues.
  • Hiring, performance coaching, workload management and delegation for IDEAA office staff. 

In what ways have you seen the IDEAA office evolve since you began your role?

When the IDEAA office was first established six years ago, it was called Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Over the past few years, we acknowledged that intersectionality needs to automatically be part of the conversation so we integrated disability inclusion and anti-racism into the title.   

When I started my role as interim manager in July 2022, anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism had been identified by Ontario Health as two populations requiring a specialized focus.  The past year also created internal awareness that some groups are racialized based on intersecting factors such as religion, caste, or citizenship; and groups that might not be immediately identified in the IDEAA space are also subject to both faith-based and racialized discrimination.

What are some of the IDEAA office responsibilities? 

Currently the key priorities are focused on five areas identified in the IDEAA workplan\

  1. Level-up internal knowledge, skills and capacity related to IDEAA  (anti-racism education)
  2. Invest in employee wellness, belonging and psychological safety (discrimination, racism and harassment reporting process, employee resource groups, using socio-demographic data to create actions to align staff representation to the communities we serve and access to workplace mobility).
  3. Apply IDEAA principles for inclusive service design in all that we do (Support the use of an IDEAA lens through team  consultation and IDEAA office representation on hospital committees)
  4. Identify underserved client and family populations with better precision (Social needs screening, sociodemographic survey) 
  5. Strengthen system partnerships and practice sharing via ongoing partnership with healthcare system partners and community groups e.g.
    • Assembly of  First Nations - support and engage with First Nations policy planners, with a specific focus on accessibility, childhood disability and understanding the integration of Indigenous worldviews in healthcare. 
    • UJA Toronto & Muslim Advisory Council of Canada – dialogue with community partners to source IDEAA based education and support for staff.
    • Kids Health Alliance EDI community of practice - collaboration with provincial  children’s hospitals to advance EDI awareness in pediatric care
    • Ontario Health Black Health Plan Working Group - representing and advancing consideration for childhood disability within Black Health.
    • Healthcare Experience Canada - input on a draft health equity framework 
    • Children’s Healthcare Canada - advisor for learning series Child Health Equity: A system-focused learning series.

Can you discuss any upcoming projects or goals for the IDEAA office in the near future?

Continuing engagement around the Black Staff Experience Report and the Roadmap to Confront Anti-Black Racism, ensuring all equity-seeking groups see themselves in our IDEAA priorities and supporting the development of the current and new employee resource groups.

What is your vision for the future of the IDEAA office, and how do you see its role evolving within Holland Bloorview and the broader community?

Over the years, there has been increasing diversity of Holland Bloorview families, which includes newcomers, many from areas that have experienced conflict. There is an opportunity to intentionally and strategically expand the IDEAA healthcare-based lens even further and to incorporate a broader understanding of providing trauma-informed care and eventually being a trauma-informed organization.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself and the work of the IDEAA office?

This work is about confronting personal biases and upending the knowledge you might have as a health care professional.  As a teaching hospital, we owe it to ourselves and our employees and for the sake of our families and clients, to prioritize this type of learning and to make it easily available. A wise colleague said “culture is health”. I envision the IDEAA office as enabling those components within the health care experience. This can look like many things, whether it be team collaboration to identify health equity initiatives that could be actioned by departments, one-on-one meetings with employees to identify opportunities for better support for staff and families, or providing all staff with equitable access to IDEAA based learning.