I was very saddened earlier to receive an email from an employee of a great leader, Dr. Michel Tétreault, informing me that he had passed away. Michel was, since 2005, the CEO of St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg.
Two news articles about his passing:
Winnipeg Free Press: President of St. Boniface Hospital dies
As stated in the articles:
“A champion of lean methodologies in health care aimed at reducing waste and improving processes, Dr. Tétreault was often invited to share his insights with health organizations in Canada, the United States and Europe.”
I met Michel through my involvement with the Healthcare Value Network. He was one of my favorite people in the Lean healthcare world, simply put.
For being a physician, a hospital CEO, and a leader in various professional societies, he was an incredibly humble and unpretentious person. He was a leader and a student. I had a chance to visit St. Boniface two different times and Michel was a gracious host and he let his employees shine. The great Lean work being done there wasn't about him or any sort of glory for himself… it was for the patients, the community, his staff, and others he wanted to share his experiences with.
Michel was a funny and charming guy, telling a hilarious story about the history of the “grey nuns” who came from Quebec to found the hospital.
He was an earnest and thoughtful leader. One of my favorite memories of Michel was visiting an Autoliv factory with him and a Healthcare Value Network group. As we walked through the factory, he was taking it all in, earnestly and respectfully. He surprised me by asking, thoughtfully, if he was somehow making a mistake because he was the only CEO there. If other CEOs chose not to come, was he making a bad choice about how to use his time? I told him, no, I thought he was making a great choice since he was learning and bringing lessons learned back to others, to further his passion for improving patient care. Like I said, he was incredibly thoughtful and didn't just go along with Lean because it was somehow popular… he seemed to be doing it because it was the right thing to do. I think his question showed great strength in being willing to question himself and his own decisions.
I had many chances to talk with Michel, not just at his hospital, but at various Lean Healthcare Transformation Summits and other events. There was always a warm smile and a sincere interest in what was going on at other hospitals. He was on a CEO panel that I moderated a few years back at a Summit. Michel was the first person I interviewed, back in 2010, for the Healthcare Value Network podcast that I was doing for a while. It's a shame that I never shared that audio as part of my podcast series, but I will.
Here is the audio from that podcast, with the audio quality cleaned up and improved a bit:
One of my favorite moments was his response to a question about the role of the CEO:
Mark: What do you do, as the CEO, week to week or quarter to quarter to help make this happen within St. Boniface?
Dr. Tétrault: [laughs] I think the most honest answer to that is “what I can.”
He also said:
“As a CEO, I think you have to be out there. You have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. One of the things I do, and I wonder why I didn't think of this earlier, about 50 times a year, I go out and meet with groups of front-line staff. These groups can be as small as 5 or as big as 200.
Basically, to make sure that they hear why we are doing this, what we're trying to accomplish, how we're going to go about it, and how it ties in with who we are as a hospital, our past and our present and our future. Part of the CEO's role is to “interpret the environment” to people, to help people understand how what we're doing fits in with the world we live in.”
Michel was also featured back in 2010 in this Winnipeg Free Press article about Lean at St. Boniface: Turning St. B into a lean machine: Standard Aero serves as example to help hospital improve care (and I blogged about it here).
The photo from the article:
As you can see, Michel is comfortable being in the background. Lean wasn't all about him. He's happy to let his CMO stand in the foreground (and Bruce, a friend of mine, is a humble gentleman, as well).
In the article, you can tell that Michel never blamed the people for bad performance:
St. Boniface Hospital president, Dr. Michel Tetreault, said bottlenecks have long occurred in the health care system because hospitals “give great people broken processes and expect them to do good work.”
Michel also maintained a blog, which included posts about Lean and improvement, such as:
- Poised for Breakthrough Improvements
- Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact
- Transforming Daily – Beyond Rapid Improvement Events
- Setting High Standards
From the 2012 Summit panel that Michel was a part of, he said (as others tweeted about):
He worked FOR the employees of the hospital. That's servant leadership.
That's Michel on the left side of the panel.
As the hospital said in a statement:
“Dr. Tétreault was a passionate advocate for patients, and actively engaged the hospital's leadership, staff and physicians in making real changes to improve processes and develop systems aimed at providing better patient care and creating operational excellence,” the hospital stated in a news release.
Rest in peace. As my friend from St. Boniface said about him:
“We lost a true leader, mentor, father, man.”
I will miss him.
Other comments about Michel:
With a PDF file shared by the hospital, which reads in part:
Dr. Tétreault often boasted about his staff when traveling abroad, telling others that St. Boniface Hospital staff were excellent – committed, caring, and compassionate individuals. Dr. Tétreault had a vision for St. Boniface Hospital: he was persuaded we could do much better for our patients. He challenged us to make St. Boniface Hospital a better place tomorrow than it is today. He was focused on making care safer for patients while improving processes throughout the entire organization. He found most joy working alongside staff and teams, encouraging them to see and solve problems together to improve care for all patients.
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