Meet Jennifer Breaton, Waterloo Wellington Stroke Program Director

Dream Big

Jennifer BreatonAt 16 years-old, Jennifer Breaton lost her younger brother to ewing’s sarcoma cancer. Her family spent four years at SickKids Hospital with her brother.  It was at that point that Jennifer knew health care and nursing were her passions: “That experience of seeing first-hand the care my brother received in hospital changed my life and it changed my view of health care. It made me realize how much of an impact a nurse could have on somebody’s life.”

It was therefore, an easy decision for Jennifer to study nursing after graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes in Guelph. Upon completing a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of New Brunswick in 1998, she joined Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital, a local community hospital as a Registered Nurse. Two years later, Jennifer joined SickKids Hospital in Toronto, caring for children before and after their organ transplants.  

Over the years Jennifer gravitated to positions that had her managing larger projects. Jennifer’s career has taken her around the world- to work with patients, health care teams and policy makers – including Sri Lanka, Amsterdam,  England, Bangladesh and India. It was shortly after these experiences that Jennifer decided to continue with her studies:  “I’d worked with so many patients and families over the years that needed the system to change in order for them to realize the full health benefits they needed and in order to do that, I needed to learn how I could impact the policy and decision makers to help move system change forward.  I was very proud that in 2010, I completed my Master’s Degree in Health Administration at the University of Toronto while working full time at SickKids and then Sunnybrook Hospital.”

While finishing her graduate studies, in November 2009, Jennifer began as the Program Manager of the University of Toronto Stroke Program, collaboration between three organizations based out of Sunnybrook Hospital: “We were doing a lot of stroke work improvement work in Toronto that Waterloo Wellington was talking about. So, I was very fortunate that when I was deciding to move from Sunnybrook, a similar position opened up here two years ago.”

As she was born and raised in Guelph, Jennifer didn’t hesitate to move back to Waterloo which brought her closer to home: “I wear two hats - Operational Director at Grand River Hospital with a dedicated budget and staffing for our acute Stroke and Rehab Units. and then I’m also the Waterloo Wellington Stroke Program Director.  That means that I help to lead the stroke system across our LHIN- ensuring that all our hospitals are providing the same top notch quality stroke care no matter where a resident lives.”

Grand River Hospital Stroke Busters Team photoJennifer describes her current work as one of the most rewarding experiences in her career, “I’m so lucky to have this job. We really started two years ago with a big red score card. We had a lot of performance issues. We were not meeting benchmarks. Patients were not doing as well as others in the province.”
After hearing from stroke survivors and community members about the need to improve stroke services, leaders and care providers from the WWLHIN, hospitals and health service organizations across Waterloo Wellington came together and built an integrated stroke program. “Now, we deliver the same care in the region no matter where you are and our mortality rates are below the provincial benchmark.  Because of the changes we’ve made every single WWLHIN resident now goes to a specialized stroke unit and 100 per cent have access to specialized rehab care. That is something I’m very proud of.”

She goes on to say: “Right now we have two specialized acute stroke units in Guelph and Kitchener which serve 800 to 900 stroke patients every year. We have really built a program of excellence and brought care closer to home.”

The Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN) provides most of the funding for Stroke Services in Waterloo Wellington. Its Board made a decision in August, 2013 to support the integration of stroke services in the region. 

One of the things Jennifer speaks about passionately is the Stroke Navigator, who tracks at any given time how many stroke patients are in the system and which services are available: “We know where all the patients are, it doesn’t matter which hospital you are at. The patient experience should be seamless as they move around our system.”

Given the success of the program, Jennifer and her team organized a mosaic of stroke event in June 2014 and invited patients to share their recovery stories: “We have built beautiful storyboards with patients narrating their journey about the impact caregivers had on them and their families. It is my hope that the stories will not only inspire other patients but also our nurses and therapists who also have hard and sad days.”

For Jennifer, she believes it’s once in a career that she can get an opportunity to lead a program that sets the bar for what other integrated programs could look like in Waterloo Wellington. Asked what she has learned from this program Jennifer says: “First, dream big but get started. Don’t wait for it to be perfect, you have to start somewhere. Secondly, put the patient at the centre of everything. We must keep asking patients and their families if we are making the right decisions because sometimes what we are planning might not be what the patients’ value.”

When Jennifer is not visiting hospitals or meeting with patients, you can find her exploring the region as since moving from Toronto she certainly loves the “lack of traffic” and cannot believe how she can get anywhere she wants to be in less than 30 minutes - be it the gym, library or picking up some groceries. You can also find her walking her small dog exploring local parks and trails or home spending time with her family.  

For more information:
Petronilla Ndebele
Communications Lead – Communications & Media Relations (WWLHIN)
Telephone: 519.650.4472, Extension 248

Jennifer Breaton, RN, MHSc
Waterloo Wellington Stroke Program Director
Grand River Hospital
Telephone: 519 749 4300, Extension 6760

*Photography credit: Grand River Hospital