August 18, 2021
AHS Chief Financial Officer, Colleen Purdy, knows a strong supply chain can’t be an afterthought
Although she loved working in financial services, Colleen Purdy felt pulled back to healthcare, where you know people are working for the greater good. Among the many learnings for the Alberta Health Services (AHS) Vice President Corporate Services and CFO during this challenging year is the importance of having a strong supply chain. Colleen recently joined the HealthPRO Board of Directors.
You have built an impressive career in financial services – and recently returned to AHS after 10 years at ATB Financial. It’s a bit of a homecoming for you. What drew you back to AHS?
When I first started in healthcare, I didn't plan on staying for as long as I did, but I fell in love with it and how fascinating it was. Then I started thinking, it's probably time for a change. I ended up in financial services, and really enjoyed it, too. Learning a new industry, new complications, and ATB Financial is a great company to work for.
Then I found out the CFO of AHS was retiring. Somebody reached out to me to ask if I was interested and I thought, “Maybe it's time to go back". I met the CEO and talked to other members of the executive team. You need to be careful that you don't think you're going back to exactly the same thing. But in healthcare, you’re always in it for the greater good of the population and healthcare in general. Yes, it’s been interesting!
AHS likely changed a lot from when you were first there. Was it overwhelming to see how much it had changed?
When I left, AHS was nine smaller regions (I was part of the Edmonton region) and now it’s a much larger organization. I haven’t been back a full year yet, but what I’ve found really interesting is the conversations I hear within AHS between clinicians and physicians specifically, they seem to be richer than they were before. Conversations about financials, economic viability, and financial sustainability. Yes, we need to deliver the best healthcare we can for our patients, but at the same time we also need to be financially sustainable. People are more open to that conversation right now than they were 15 years ago.
How is AHS approaching the kinds of financial constraints that are rampant in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic?
AHS has had to respond to many disaster-type events – we had the Fort McMurray fire, the fire in Slave Lake, crises where you’re reacting in an emergency situation. Those disasters were localized but help came from many other places within the province. The pandemic has been different, it is across the province, across the country, and it’s gone on for a long time. The Alberta government, along with the federal government, is funding us for what we need to respond to the pandemic. We do have initiatives that we would have started before the pandemic hit us, there has been a bit of a pause to some of those. We are moving on the ones we can and we’ll come back to the others when the time is right. Responding to the pandemic is job number one.
What makes the mission of HealthPRO meaningful to you?
The organization is dedicated to helping in the challenges facing all of us across the country. They’re looking for efficiencies and effectiveness and as Renato (Discenza, HealthPRO CEO) has said, Canada is not a big player in the overall healthcare business when you compare us to places like the U.S. So HealthPRO is helping all of us across the country get more scale, get more buying power.
During the pandemic, especially in the early days last year, AHS was praised for the efficient way it managed contracts, procurement, and the supply chain. That’s now part of your portfolio.
I wasn't here at the beginning of the pandemic, but I can say AHS has done a fabulous job in integrating, consolidating, and understanding what we need across the province. HealthPRO has been doing that from a national perspective, looking at what people are going to need and being proactive with suppliers and vendors.
What we’ve learned going through all this is that supply chain can't be an afterthought. It’s that idea of being ahead of it and not waiting until somebody phones you up and says, "I'm out of something." One of the great examples for me of this was, as the news on vaccines started to come out and realizing that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were going to have very specific cold chain needs. Our procurement department was already talking to vendors before the operations people came to us and said, "We need freezers."
I'm sure HealthPRO was doing the same thing, staying connected to the landscape and what might be the next thing that comes up. I think that's a sign of a great procurement shop.
Being a board member is something you clearly believe in. Why is this involvement an important part of your life?
Giving back to the community, being part of those organizations, finding a way to contribute and help, it's just always been there. I believe I've been blessed in my life, in where I grew up, my family and the opportunities I've had. Lots of not-for-profits are looking for financial people to be involved in their boards so there's opportunity there for me to give back.
I also look for not-for-profits that resonate with me. I’m currently on a board of an organization called Making Changes. It helps women who want to get back into the workforce and newcomers to the country with clothing, training and support. I’m on HealthPRO's board and also on the Local Authorities Pension Plan Sponsor board. I look for things that I believe will help my own organization as well.
What does good governance and being an active board member mean to you?
For most boards, management is presenting lots of different information, being active, participating, listening, and understanding the materials that are put in front of you are very important. Asking good questions. Thinking about risk: how will things be perceived by others? Especially now in healthcare when we’re in the news on a regular basis. So, good board governance is thinking about those communications and how others outside the organization will perceive things.
It also means working as a group, being respectful of your other board members, where they come from, what they're seeing and making sure that all voices are heard. HealthPRO helps healthcare across the country, but they also support our organization, so having good board governance for HealthPRO is important.
How do you keep the balance in your own life?
I do yoga, and I try to get to the gym to do some weights. Not because I like it but because it’s good for me! And I like to travel. Now, of course, the pandemic has put a real damper on a lot of it. Staying connected to family helps keep me grounded. I started a new job in the midst of this. Maybe the pandemic happening at the same time has helped, because I’ve been working a lot of hours to get up-to-speed and read everything I need to read.
Do you have a mantra?
I don't know if it's a mantra, but for me it’s about family and friends and community. I always keep that in mind. I'm stealing this from somebody I used to work with at ATB, but I love it. Their work mantra was, “Think big, start small, act now”. It’s that idea that, if we wait for the perfect time, you may never start. It may look too big, so how do we get this done? Take baby steps and start now.