100 Years of Bloomberg Nursing at U of T: Susan Bisaillon Leadership Feature

Susan Bisaillon

MSc (Nursing), 1992

Chief Executive Officer, Safehaven

Susan Bisaillon advises the next generation of student nurses to follow their heart; take care of their health and well-being; and continue to learn and grow, to put themselves out there to push innovative change.

Originally from Newfoundland, Susan did her undergrad at Memorial University before moving to Toronto to be in the academic health science centres. She had considered going into medicine but realized she could “do more” as a nurse.

Early in her career she worked at St. Joseph Health Centre in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit. When she started to think about expanding her career, she noticed that the new administration and teaching jobs all wanted Master’s-prepared nurses. This spurred her to enrol in the MN program at Bloomberg Nursing. She did her placement at UHN. Once she received her MN, Susan became a Nurse Educator at Toronto Western in the medical/surgical/neuro intensive care unit. Further, she became a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Peter Monk Cardiac Centre in Cardiology.

In 1998 she moved to Argentina after her husband was transferred there. At the time, nursing was only just becoming professionalized in Argentina – before that professional credentials did not exist. She began working at the University of Pilar, a private university. Six of the graduates earned Argentina’s first nursing degrees. The University of Pilar had a relationship with Duke University, which enabled her to translate her thesis on quality research in patients with pacemakers into Spanish and present at the conference to peers in Argentina and the United States of America. This was an exciting experience given that Argentina was commencing the process of professionalizing nursing.

When Susan returned to Canada, a mentor of hers brought her on at Trillium Health Partners. She became the Executive Director of Operations, and then the AVP of Operations after the merge with Credit Valley Hospital. Then, she moved on to Halton Health Care as the COO of the new build in Oakville.

She served on the board of Safehaven (formally known as the Safehaven Project for Community Living) and was initially brought on as interim CEO. She has been there ever since.

Safehaven provides respite and residential care for people with complex care needs, in a way that is non-institutional and fun; striving to deliver everything an individual needs to live a life of independence and belonging.

Working with Safehaven brought a new challenge: learning more about community health. Prior to this role Susan had always been in a hospital setting. The focus became providing a continuum of care of children and adolescents who have multiple medical complexities.

She is now transforming the organization. One of those transformations brought together affordable housing with a 24/7 care model she calls “inclusive environments”. This new role includes a lot of advocacy. Susan and Safehaven have taken “we belong” from a slogan for the organization to an actual movement: everyone’s voice is heard, potential is unleashed. Together, they are leading the practice in community health in integrated care for people with medical complexities.

Susan’s previous experience in infection prevention and control has become an instrumental part of her work with Safehaven during Covid-19, and Susan is being sought out as a leader in this area for other community health organizations as well as with respective provincial ministries. Utilizing the standards from Accreditation Canada and Public Health Ontario she has been able to support agencies in the Developmental and Violence Against Women sectors to support their efforts to combat COVID-19.

The pandemic has uncovered a number of challenges for our vulnerable populations and the organizations that support them. For example: access to PPE and proper infection control. Safehaven has advocated on behalf of these organizations and has developed an Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) program for the Toronto Developmental Service Alliance. This includes the creation of a team to provide expertise and training to employees across the sector.

Additionally, she has experience as a surveyor with Accreditation Canada since 2004 and surveyed all across Canada and internationally in Central and South America, United Arab Emirates which has provided impactful experiences.

Susan’s career is filled with highlights of teaching, program building, and creating standards to enhance quality of life. Susan is excited for the long-career ahead of her as she pivots to seek and solve current system gaps to foster a more inclusive society of independence and belonging for vulnerable individuals.

Susan wants current Bloomberg Nursing students to know that the possibilities in nursing are endless. “You can change so much for the better and have an impact.”

This story was part of a series of one hundred stories featuring Bloomberg Nursing alumni at the University of Toronto during their 100th anniversary in 2020. Our CEO Susan Bisaillon is a proud alumna of the MSc Nursing program in 1992.