Barbara Fox One-on-One with Katie Heelis to Talk Her New Role, Health Care and What’s Next
I’m delighted to be here with Katie Heelis, our new vice president and the head of the rapidly growing health care practice here at Enterprise.
I would rather be celebrating this well-deserved promotion with Katie in person over lunch and a glass of champagne.
But with our Zoom reality, I’m glad we can at least have a conversation online and talk about your experience and the passion you bring to the health care practice.
For those who don’t know, Enterprise has worked in the health care sector since our firm was founded in 1986. With the transformation that was beginning in the sector, we decided to increase our focus and formalize a health care practice.
We recruited Katie two short years ago. Since then, she has led our healthcare clients through incredible change.
She has delivered results that saw nearly $1 billion in investments for the health sector – for more testing, public education, PPE, and more supports including mental health supports.
Katie brings a rare combination of deep sector knowledge and an understanding of public policy and politics. She is trusted and respected by both federal and provincial governments – elected representatives and civil servants.
She is an exceptional resource for our clients and for governments.
And she is a perfect fit with Enterprise.
I could go on, but I want to let Katie speak for herself.
Barbara Fox, CEO, Enterprise Canada: You started your career in health as an issues manager for Dr. Eric Hoskins, the former Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. What drew you to that role?
Katie Heelis, Vice President, Health Practice Lead, Enterprise Canada: My background is in public policy and I’ve always been passionate about public health. I was drawn to work in government, and for the Minister, because I saw it as an opportunity to be at the heart of decision making in our health system. Eric has a strong track record of being an advocate for public health, in Canada and internationally, and I saw a lot of alignment with our values.
BF: You have seamlessly made the transition from government to consulting. What were some of the main challenges you saw and wanted to address for the healthcare sector as a public affairs professional?
KH: After spending years at the Ministry of Health I knew I wasn’t ready to walk away from the health sector. I felt like we had made progress on some fronts, but there were still so many areas of our health system that needed improvement. Moving to consulting, and working for Enterprise, I saw it as an opportunity to try and help government solve these problems from the outside with an insider’s perspective.
Particularly, I worked on the mental health file in government, a file that historically has not received the attention it deserves. This was one area where I knew I wanted to focus to help improve access. Thankfully, Enterprise is fully supportive of me in this and as a result, many of our first clients were non-for-profits in the mental health sector.
BF: It’s just over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Canada. What were the biggest challenges to the sector in the last year and going forward, what are the key issues that need to be addressed?
KH: Since day one of the pandemic, the health system has been in crisis mode – fighting COVID-19 while trying to maintain continuity of care. Pre-pandemic our system typically ran at full capacity on a good day and that was severely disrupted. People are still having heart attacks, being diagnosed with cancer and getting in accident, while others skipped doctors’ appointments and had their surgeries delayed. There are real consequences for all of these events.
The immediate question is how can we make up for time lost to the pandemic? We need to be able to quickly pivot from COVID-19 to a recovery plan that expedites depleting the backlog of healthcare procedures the pandemic has created.
Looking ahead, it is clear that we need to build our health care system to be even stronger for the future and we need to build a strong life sciences, biomedical and pharmaceutical industry in Canada.
We also need to increase hospital capacity, modernize and transform long-term care, think digital and virtual where possible, and invest domestically to ensure a stable healthcare supply chain for the future.
We’re lucky in Canada to have some of the best health workers, training institutions, hospitals and experts in the world – whether it’s our nurses, doctors and PSWs or epidemiologist, biomedical engineers or researchers. We have what we need right here to build back our health system even better, but it will take a coordinated effort from governments and substantial and sustainable investments to ensure our health system is ready for the future.
BF: From your perspective, what would you say are your greatest accomplishments over your time at Enterprise?
I am most proud of building this practice from the ground up, with Barbara and Jason [Lietaer, President of Enterprise.]
Two years ago, we had one or two health clients but today we serve dozens of health clients on any given day. We’ve reached the point where our reputation of building winning strategies for clients speaks for itself, and now some of the biggest health organizations in the world are knocking on our door.
Supporting clients through the pandemic has also been a career highlight for me. As a former issues and crisis manager, I don’t do well sitting back and watching a crisis unfold. I need to be a part of finding and offering solutions.
For our health clients who are on the frontlines fighting this pandemic every day, exhausted and burnt out, it’s been rewarding to do a small part behind the scenes to help them do their job best. Since the start of the pandemic, we helped bring PPE to Canada, we supported clients to get COVID testing devices approved, and we’ve advocated for better wages and protections for health workers. Knowing that we’ve helped people working on the frontlines, even in just a small, small way, that’s the highlight for me.
BF: You know the entire team adores you and for good reason. You’re smart, dedicated, organized, a natural leader and of course, just fun to be around. Describe what Enterprise means to you, on a personal level.
It sounds corny but Enterprise really is like a family. It’s the people who make this place what is it.
Every day, I get to learn from the best writers, digital experts, marketing pros, government relations and public relations stars in Canada. And they are all right here on my own team just a Zoom away.
We often (always) work long days but when you’re working with a team that is as good as ours it doesn’t feel like work.
Knowing that whatever I do or whatever I need (in both my work and personal life) will be supported, not only by Barbara and Jason but the whole team, has given me the confidence to dream big and to go after what I want. I think that’s why the Health Practice is where it’s at today and that’s a testament to Barbara and Jason, but also the whole Enterprise team who work-in and day-out to build each other up.
BF: Thank you Katie. Our team prides itself on doing good and meaningful work that makes a difference in people’s lives. We all look forward to working with you to continue doing this and building the Enterprise health practice.