Vaughan: A City Coming Of Age

As home to the country’s first smart-technology hospital and first new hospital to open in Ontario in 30 years, the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital represents a marker for a city coming of age.

We live in a time in which citizens are asking their cities to be more than just streets, parks and structures. Today, cities must represent their communities and the hopes, values and ideals of community members.

Achieving this aspirational vision of the modern city represents noteworthy challenges and opportunities for city builders. But, as Maurizio Bevilacqua, the mayor of Vaughan, Ont., describes, the key is paying close attention to the vision of community put forward by citizens. “My community is a community that pursues excellence. It does it in a very refined way, a very elegant way, and it does it by essentially working hard, pooling the resources of each member and actualizing its full potential.”

Perhaps the best example of the actualized potential meant by Mayor Bevilacqua is the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, which is Canada’s first smart-technology hospital and first new hospital to open in Ontario in the past 30 years. As a city landmark that captures Vaughan’s cultivation of a global mindset and renewed commitment to commerce, medicine and learning, the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital is the culmination of a decade-long pursuit of excellence by the government and the community.

As Mayor Bevilacqua explains, “This was the first file on my desk when I became mayor in 2010, and so it’s really, for me, a dream come true, as I’m sure it is for our community that has been waiting for a generation to have a hospital here in the City of Vaughan. We went from no hospital to one of the best hospitals in the country, the first smart-technology hospital built in Canada, which tells you that, at the end of the day, patience is a virtue.”

Indeed, patience has clearly rewarded the city with the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital. Home to Mackenzie Health’s Woman and Child, and Inpatient Mental Health programs and the Inpatient Integrated Stroke unit, it also offers emergency and modern surgical services, advanced diagnostic imaging capabilities, specialized clinics and intensive-care beds, medicine, birthing, pediatrics and many specialized programs.

As with any complex, diverse and innovative project, the state-of-the-art hospital, unsurprisingly, didn’t come without any hurdles. “Sometimes in a journey you may find some friction between organizations and people, but, at the end of the day, you should always be guided by goodwill and also use a lot of common sense and intelligence to get through challenges … With any program, there are some naysayers, but I’m always motivated by what is positive and what I refer to as ‘the art of the possible,’ which means that, even though, in life, you may face some challenges, there’s always a solution if you’re all in and your heart is into it, and you use all your ability to make sure that this gets delivered,” says the mayor.

“We hope that Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital will act as a bustling hub of health-care excellence for our residents and enrich the longevity of our community for years to come”

Pietro (Peter) Cortellucci

The Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, a 1.2-million-square-foot facility that cost $1.8 billion, will generate more than 1,000 jobs in the community. With a project of this scale, the generosity and collaboration that had to come together in order to make it come to life is not lost on the president and CEO of the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, Altaf Stationwala. “There are so many people who have their fingerprints all over this, and it’s a great thing that so many people wanted to touch it because if they weren’t touching it and pushing it and driving it, it would not happen. The mayor and I started at around the same time in 2010, and the first file I had on my desk was the new hospital in Vaughan, and it was the same file that he had. Our ability to connect with key donors, like the Cortellucci family, our ability to work with councillors, our MPPs, you know, all these things happen to keep this thing going, and more importantly, the strong advocacy of the community who really stood up and said, ‘You know, Vaughan deserves its own hospital; it’s time.’” In other words: a true community endeavour.

The hospital was named after the Cortellucci family, a family that has graciously and greatly influenced the success of the growing city of Vaughan (whose population is expected to increase by 35 per cent in the next 20 years) over the past decades and deeply understands what this hospital means for the community as a whole. “Our family has called York Region home for the last 30 years and we are so grateful to live, work and raise our children in a city as vibrant, diverse and progressive as ours. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to invest in the health and well-being of our community. The new hospital will provide Vaughan citizens with exceptional health care, adding much needed capacity to our health system and doubling their access to care. We hope that Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital will act as a bustling hub of healthcare excellence for our residents and enrich the longevity of our community for years to come,” says Pietro (Peter) Cortellucci. Mayor Bevilacqua echoed this sentiment, noting that, in collaboration with Mackenzie Health, ventureLAB, York University and the City of Vaughan, he hopes to solidify Vaughan as one of the epicentres of health care in Ontario.

“My community is a community that pursues excellence. It does it in a very refined way, a very elegant way and it does it by essentially working hard, pooling the resources of each member and actualizing its full potential”

Maurizio Bevilacqua, the mayor of Vaughan

The Cortellucci family is recognized by the community as one of Vaughan’s most philanthropic families. Stationwala expresses his gratitude toward these key community leaders, who have allowed the hospital to come to life: “Obviously, they’re significant leaders in the community. They have given in many jurisdictions, and they’re a family whose roots are deep in this community. When I have met with the family on numerous occasions, they are the most humble, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet, and so I do think they represent our values and what we stand for as an organization. We’re very proud and honoured to have their name on the Vaughan Hospital. I couldn’t think of a better family that signifies what Vaughan is about and what it means to give back to your community. With the mayor’s support and the work that we did with them over the years leading up to the announcement, it’s a historic milestone, the largest donation in the history of this organization, and it was quite the momentous unveiling — even though it was in the middle of a pandemic — but, in the history of Mackenzie Health, a very proud moment, and I’m very proud to have that family connected to our organization,” says Stationwala.

In many ways, the Cortellucci family represents the community’s values as a whole. “Giving back is in our blood. It’s how our nonni raised us, it’s how our parents raised us, it’s how we plan to raise our kids. Growing up, our nonna, Maria, would recount stories about what life was like in her small village in Italy and the hardships her family faced moving to Canada. Yet, she always shared these memories with a warm, gentle smile. At their core, her stories were about persevering, working hard, living gracefully and always caring for your neighbour. These lessons have guided our family into the present day,” says Pietro.

Fundamentally, these are the lessons that unite many Canadians in a shared sense of what it means to be Canadian. Or, in other words, what it means to be part of a community. “On the surface, our family may construct homes with brick and lumber, but we strive to do more than just build buildings — we strive to build communities. We truly believe a community grows from the heart and generosity of its citizens … It’s important for us to share our legacy not just with our family, but also with the many families living in our community. We are so profoundly grateful to live and work in a city like Vaughan and be able to give back to our community. We hope we can inspire others to invest in the health and future of our residents,” says Pietro.

If the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital represents the realization of a decade-long community ambition, then, equally, it will serve as a symbol of Vaughan’s perseverance and drive for excellence. As Mayor Bevilacqua explains, “Building a hospital is a labour of love … if you’re motivated by love, compassion, understanding and a nurturing spirit, great things can in fact happen because it is that purity of the soul that really makes things happen at the end of the day.”

Q&A with president and CEO of Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, Altaf Stationwala

Q: Can you speak on how Vaughan is emerging as an epicentre of healthcare excellence in Canada? Can you highlight the smart technology/ innovation that can be seen throughout the hospital?
AS: One of the unique things about the CVH [Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital] is that it’s the first net new hospital to be built in this province in over 30 years, so that, by its very nature, being something that is not a replacement hospital, or a hospital moving from one location to another, sort of creates a unique opportunity. So, for us, it was actually building out the medical staff, not having to merge two organizations together, but really growing from within and growing to a second site, so all of our departments and everything that is structured is actually quite aligned across the two hospitals … Another feature that the patients told us about is that when they’re lying on their bed, and the windowsill is at a certain height, they can look out, but they can’t look down. So, the window heights are one foot above the floors, so even when you’re lying on your back, you can actually look down. Then we said that if the patients are looking down, we don’t want them to see an ugly roof, and so we created green roofs everywhere, so all you see is landscaping and green features. Another unique thing that came about with this building is that because we’re located next to Canada’s Wonderland and because they do fireworks, we didn’t want the fireworks to disturb patients who are resting at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, so the glazing on the Major Mackenzie site is actually extra thick, so it actually ensures that the firework noises aren’t travelling through the glass. All of this is driven, first and foremost, from the patients and their families.

Q: How would you explain your job to a friend?
AS: I’ll use hockey as an analogy. I really see my job as a coach: I have a team that are super stars, but they ultimately have to perform as a team, so it’s always keeping that balance to the board, to the leadership, to the front-line manager, to the front-line staff members — everybody has to do their part. And it’s that ability to step away and make constant adjustments to understand, “What do we have to do to be successful?” The adjustments are things that are thrown at you out of the blue, like a pandemic, so how do you redeploy the team to keep the construction of the hospital going while dealing with the pandemic? I’ll give you an interesting analogy of the adjustments that we made. So, in the first wave, PCL, who is our constructor, the trades were too afraid to come to work, and we said, “Well, we have part of our team that can help your team get this across the finish line by helping you understand the best way to keep your staff safe. The same infection control nurses who are helping our front-line staff supported PCL and we said that these are some of the things you can do: screening everyone who comes through the door, hand hygiene, creating separation of space at work, have trades work at different times during the day. Because of that work, that team effort, we actually still got the project done in August when it was scheduled to finish, and substantial completion was achieved. So, that’s how I would describe my job. I don’t actually execute or deliver on anything, I don’t touch a patient, I don’t do any of these things, but I have to have the ability to see what’s working. And what’s not working, and, when something is not working, you’ve got to make adjustments.

Q: Where do you see the future of the community of Vaughan, particularly when it comes to health care?
AS: I think Vaughan will be a city to itself. It is obviously a city to itself, but, it will basically almost be a standalone epicentre of everything that matters, whether it’s around economic development and the kinds of businesses that it attracts, whether it’s around residential and the kinds of homes we create, whether it’s around the core social services, whether it’s universities or health care, it’ll be more and more of a contained community and really be everything that a resident needs. Yes, we live next to this giant called Toronto, and it does offer a lot of things, for sure, and it’ll always be where the nature of things are. So, if you want to be a hockey fan, unfortunately, you have to support the Toronto Maple Leafs, but maybe Vaughan will have its own NHL team that can actually win. Maybe that could be the future of Vaughan. I do see it being a city that offers more and more of what a resident needs, and where do I see the growth for us? We’re going to offer more advanced treatments and care. There will be more tertiary and quaternary space, where you don’t need to go to Toronto for services because we can offer it here.

Q: What do you love most about your job?
AS: I love the fact that I work and live in this community, and I’m giving something back. And, if I was to ever need care, or my family, this is the hospital we would come to, either of the hospitals, so, you know, I think that’s what I find most rewarding by far, and it’s unique. How many people get to be the CEO of the hospital in their community?


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Estelle Zentil

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