Biggest transformation in 60 years will help change the face of heart disease and stroke, CEO says
Since 1952, Heart & Stroke has driven the fight against heart disease and stroke in Canada. With the support of countless donors and volunteers, Heart & Stroke has invested more than $1.45 billion in vital research.
In that time, the death rate from these diseases has declined by more than 75%. But the need is more urgent than ever. Heart disease and stroke are still leading causes of death and hospitalization, with one in two Canadians touched in some way.
We sat down with Diego Marchese, interim CEO at Heart & Stroke, to discuss the new look and why reinvention is necessary in the fight against heart disease and stroke.
What inspired this change?
We’ve had great successes over the last 60 years. But we need to evolve to address the urgent health challenges we’re facing.
Can you elaborate on those challenges?
If you think about treating heart attack, we’ve done a good job. Your chances of surviving a heart attack today are high. But many of the people who have suffered through different heart conditions are developing things like heart failure. They’re suffering at a later stage, but the reality is they’re still suffering and their families are suffering. Heart failure is just one example of an issue we’re facing that maybe wasn’t as big a problem 40 or 50 years ago.
Our advocacy work on tobacco control legislation helped dramatically reduce death rates. But now we’re facing nutrition challenges with kids. The level of marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods to kids didn’t exist a number of years back. We know it’s influencing children’s food preferences and contributing to a significant increase in diabetes and childhood obesity.
We’re not as active as we used to be. When I grew up, kids just went out and played. And now, with my own kids even, exercise is programmed. If I’m not really on top of it, it’s not a natural thing for them to just go outside and play. They’re really attached to technology and other forms of entertainment. We need new tools and supports to address these sorts of challenges.
How will the transformation help Heart & Stroke address these challenges?
Research shows that heart disease and stroke is a nationwide problem that affects our diverse population. One Canadian dies of heart disease or stroke every seven minutes. It affects men and women of all ages and ethnicities. It’s not just a disease that affects white males.
We needed to evolve and reflect that reality. The new brand is really our opportunity to re-engage with Canadians, communicate the urgency of our cause and show that we’re growing and prepared to meet the challenges.
In addition to our ongoing strategic priorities we have elevated a few key areas in 2017. We are advocating for bold children’s health policies, committing to erase the gender bias in heart and brain health and supporting our Indigenous communities to close the gap in Indigenous health.
What else is changing?
Funding research is critical. And we’re changing our approach from a passive funding model to being a catalyst for the most important and relevant research. We want to focus on addressing the most urgent health issues facing Canadians today, so we’re asking, what are the best strategies and approaches? And we’re using experts in the field to help us understand where we need to go.
Up to now, our research funds have essentially been divided into four silos: basic biomedical, clinical, health services and health-population research. Researchers would submit their applications to us and then we’d categorize them and fund the best projects. We’re still funding excellent research, make no mistake.
But now we’re going to look at research into our diseases more holistically, with better integration across critical areas, so talented researchers can collaborate to answer questions and drive more medical breakthroughs.
Why is Heart & Stroke the right organization to take the lead in improving Canadians’ health?
I think there are a few reasons. First, our history has demonstrated the sort of success that we can have. The death rate due to heart disease and stroke is down by 75% from when we started. That’s a remarkable success story in the health arena. And it wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of our donors and volunteers.
As a result, we’ve set an expectation with Canadians and how they view Heart & Stroke. They expect that we will step up and lead, by speaking on their behalf, and supporting them with their health. More than ever, donors expect us to show them the impact we’re having. And we do that in many ways, including a section on our website (heartandstroke.ca).
Both provincial and federal governments view Heart & Stroke as a critical partner in the health of Canadians. There’s an expectation that Heart & Stroke is a leader and will continue to be a leader going forward.
The other thing is we’re viewed as that third-party catalyst. We’re able to bring different partners together to improve the health of Canadians. That’s a real strength of Heart & Stroke.
We’re seeing lots of change. What will remain the same at Heart & Stroke?
Our vision remains the same: Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen. At the end of the day, we’re one team with one goal right across this country. That team includes our donors, our volunteers, our partners and our staff.
That’s what it’s all about and why we do all these things. Although we’ve updated our look, we’re still very much committed to our vision.
What does the future look like for Heart & Stroke?
We will continue to innovate, and we will be even smarter about it. To innovate for the sake of innovation is not where we’re going. If there are things that we’ve done for a number of years that are still successful and Canadians really believe in the work we’re doing, we will continue them. It comes down to impact.
Like any organization or company in the world, you can’t afford to stand still. You’ve got to be moving forward and thinking about how you innovate to get to the next level, so that you’re able to deal with new challenges and problems. I believe that’s where we’re going.