Virginia Flintoft has been a driving force in Canada's patient safety movement from the early years when she worked on the Canadian Adverse Events Study. Her grassroots, salt of the earth approach has underlined her efforts as a workhorse for patient safety and a maven of measurement.
Virginia Flintoft, known to most as Ginny, became a nurse because she wanted to help people. Her interest in and commitment to improving patient care has guided the evolution of her career spanning more than 50 years.
Ginny says she has been incredibly lucky to work with academic leaders at the top of their game in cardiovascular care, interventional cardiology, clinical medical research, health services research and advancing patient safety. Most people, however, say they have been incredibly lucky to work with Ginny! As she retires at the end of November, Ginny's parting words of wisdom are to seize the moment, learn from each other, and value and share each other's knowledge.
Ginny received her nursing diploma (RN) from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal; Bachelor of Nursing from the University of Calgary; and MSc in Design, Measurement and Evaluation (Clinical Epidemiology) from McMaster University. Her clinical experience was primarily in cardiac and cardiovascular intensive care nursing and as a research coordinator in clinical medical research in a number of healthcare facilities across Canada.
She worked for 12 years as a senior research coordinator at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) managing health services research projects and providing research support to leading scientists including Drs. C. David Naylor and Jack V. Tu. In the late 90s, she was recruited by Dr. Adalsteinn Brown to work as a senior research associate at the University of Toronto's Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. They were looking for someone who was a whiz at managing complex projects, and understood measurement and data, to work on a performance report for Ontario hospitals.
Then, in 2002, Drs. G. Ross Baker and Peter Norton approached Ginny to manage the Canadian Adverse Events study and be an active member of their team.
"I have worked with Virginia very intensely for more than 20 years and she has been a great, but not always externally visible, influence on the success of a variety of high-profile initiatives in this country," says Ross Baker. "She has worked harder than anyone I know. She is one of the last to leave her office and is literally always available to talk about issues and to deal with problems that have emerged in that work. She is so very dedicated to the broader goals of improving safety and quality of care across the country. I don't think we can underestimate the kind of impact that she's had, being one of the critical people in this work."
In 2005, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) launched Safer Healthcare Now! and Ginny was called upon to manage the Central Measurement Team. "She was the logical person because she is so effective in managing complex distributed teams and working well with people at all levels," adds Baker. "She is respectful of others, including her colleagues and teammates, and very effective in talking to senior leaders. There is hardly anyone who does not find Virginia an easy person to work with. Those are really great qualities."
Anne MacLaurin (Senior Program Manager, CPSI) was the Project Manager for Safer Healthcare Now! when she first connected with Ginny. They worked together on Patient Safety Metrics and most recently on the Measurement and Monitoring of Safety and the Safety Framework. "Ginny is the most committed and dedicated person that I have ever worked with," says Anne. "She always goes above and beyond what is expected or required of her in terms of the time she gives and the work that she does. She is a great colleague and lots of fun to work with."
When Ginny was in a bicycle accident that acutely injured her shoulder and knee, she gave the ambulance attendant her cellphone to call Anne and tell her that she was unable to make a scheduled meeting. In no time, Ginny had her computer set-up and was working from her hospital bed. A slow recovery did not deter Ginny -- she arranged for an electric wheelchair so that she could attend the first learning session of the Measurement and Monitoring of Safety Framework. "Come hell or high water, she was not going to miss that," says Anne. "She will go above and beyond to make sure she doesn't miss anything. That is her passion, commitment and work ethic."
Wayne Miller (Senior Program Manager, CPSI) worked with Ginny for the past four years on implementing two Safety Improvement Projects (SIPs). "It has been an enjoyable opportunity to learn alongside Ginny as we explored the Canadian experience with the Measurement and Monitoring Framework and the Medication Safety SIPs," says Wayne. "Ginny's drive and desire to see improvements in patient safety is a force that has helped move many important initiatives forward."
"As a fellow nurse and quality and patient safety colleague, Ginny's commitment to the quality and safety of patient care has been unwavering," says Maryanne D'Arpino, Senior Director, CPSI. "With all of the work she touched, we could always count on her broad perspective and lessons learned. I am always baffled at the never-ending extent of her network. We often say, 'ask Ginny, she probably knows them'."
Alexandru Titeu (Project Manager, Central Measurement Team), has shared a two-desk office with Ginny for the past 10 years. "Ginny has been a relentless advocate of patient safety with the underlying philosophy of always listen to your customer," says Alex. "One thing that I learned from Ginny is that you need to help people and make things easy for them. We made a good team, and she has been a very good mentor and teacher. Ginny has a very good didactic quality; she doesn't tell you how to do something, instead she guides you on how to get results."
Ginny is very grateful for the wonderful opportunities and terrific memories she holds from her career. She wants to stay connected with her lifetime work and perhaps do some consulting when the opportunity comes along. In the meantime, she is looking forward to volunteering, spending time with her grandchildren, and post-COVID travelling with her husband.
"A long time ago someone shared a Patrick Overton quote with me," says Ginny. "When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen. Either there will be something solid for you to stand on - or you will be taught how to fly. I go forward with that in my heart knowing that I have truly been blessed."