Where Hope Meets Health Care

At BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation, Laurie Clarke started out as a donor long before she became its CEO. Today that connection, which initially drew her to the Vancouver-based organization, helps her to lead it.

As the only facility in Western Canada dedicated exclusively to the health of women, babies, and families, BC Women’s Hospital is the busiest maternity hospital in Canada. It is estimated that about 20 percent of British Columbia’s babies are born at BC Women’s Hospital, including some of the province’s most critically ill and premature babies. As a matter of fact, the more-than-80-year-old organization is the only hospital in the province that can care for babies born as early as 23 weeks.

After spending years in the nonprofit industry, fund-raising for postsecondary education, Clarke jumped at a chance to join the organization and contribute to maximizing the hospital’s fund-raising potential. She had just left a longtime position at a technology institute when she learned that BC Women’s Hospital was searching for a new CEO. She had never worked in the health-care industry, but she figured the methodology in fund-raising crossed sectors.

“I’ve been CEO for four years now, and I still feel so lucky each time I come into work,” Clarke says. “I never thought about taking on a new role in an unfamiliar industry; it just sort of happened. I think of it as a late-stage learning opportunity, and I’m so grateful for it. Nothing is more meaningful than seeing tangible differences in the lives of families. Contributing to that in any way is an honour.”

But it’s not without its challenges. The hurdles that Clarke and her team encounter are common throughout their sector: provincial resources only cover so much, meaning the hospital is dependent on donations to make cutting-edge technology and equipment possible. Constant technological innovations are expensive to keep up with, and BC Women’s Hospital requires the best of the best to ensure the 7,000 babies born in its care each year—some with unique needs—are well taken care of.
“The real challenge is donor support,” Clark says. “Fund-raising is a sophisticated business full of professionals and worthy causes. There’s no single reason why a person would support one good cause over another. So much of what we do is making sure donors understand the unique role of BC Women’s Hospital.”

And what makes it unique is the community it serves. The hospital treats the highest-risk maternity patients and the most severely ill newborns in the province. What’s also special is the hospital’s approach of collaborating with other hospitals to offer the best specialized care possible.

Clarke’s role as CEO, however, isn’t just a job. As a daughter, mother, and grandmother, she truly cares about women and is deeply invested in their health and well-being. “Since taking on this role, I’ve really come to look at the importance of health for women,” she says. “Women are often the switchboard of their families and their workplaces. If a woman you rely on is unhealthy, the ripple effects of it are immeasurable. Investing in the well-being of a woman is investing in the well-being of entire families.

This means treating women who urgently need care, but it also means providing preventative services, such as state-of-the-art digital-imaging technology at the hospital’s new Sadie Diamond Breast Health Imaging Centre. Digital mammography with tomosynthesis takes high-resolution pictures of a breast from multiple angles, combining them into computer-generated 3-D images. This enables critical details to be viewed more easily, drastically improving the chance of finding breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. Clarke cites the Sadie Diamond Breast Health Imaging Centre as one of her team’s proudest achievements, made possible by a $3 million donation from the Gordon and Leslie Diamond family.

But none of the hospital’s achievements would be possible without its dedicated employees, which is why Clarke’s goal moving forward is to let staff and volunteers know the difference they make in the lives of people each day. “Everyone is so humble, so it will be an eternal goal,” Clarke says. “I want to talk about their achievements because they won’t. I want the people who work here to receive recognition for the amazing, critical work they do. I want everyone to know what a key resource we are to the province and how so much of that is owed to the people who work here and the donors who support us.”

Written by Tina Vasquez for Advantage Magazine

Photograpy by Brian Howell