• Melanie Ramnauth

In Conversation with Brianna Croft: On Healthcare Innovation and the Future of Aging in Canada


Canada’s aging population and the services available to support this demographic have been topics of importance brought to the forefront by the pandemic. COVID-19 has both revealed the issues within existing healthcare systems and accelerated the process of innovation. We are beginning to see the transition from traditional treatment methods involving in-person care to a more technologic and dynamic approach.


In our March installment of the 2020-2021 Speaker Series, we had the chance to hear from former UTIHI member and healthcare innovator, Brianna Croft. Brianna is a Program Manager on the Futures team at SE Health (formerly “Saint Elizabeth Healthcare”), a major national senior aging and home care company. Brianna leads SE Health's projects with the CAN Health Network, a national partnership comprised of leading Canadian Health organizations and health technology companies across Canada. Her various projects focus on creating the next practices and business models through innovation.


In this written interview, Brianna shares the challenges, opportunities, and successes that arise when innovating in the aging and elderly healthcare space. We examine novel methods in delivering care that provides more autonomy and access to resources within one’s own quarters. Additionally, Brianna takes us through how her team is working to re-conceptualize senior housing, restructure the care workforce and transform health (care) as we know it.


Please enjoy this interview!


Special thanks to our sponsor, BeMo Academic Consulting, for making projects like the Speaker Series possible.


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Brianna Croft is a Program Manager on the Futures team at SE Health (formerly “Saint Elizabeth Healthcare”), a major national seniors aging and home care company. Brianna leads SE Health's projects with the CAN Health Network, a national partnership comprised of leading Canadian Health organizations and health technology companies across Canada. Her various projects focus on creating the next practices and business models through innovation. She graduated from Western University with a Bachelor of Health Science in 2016 and graduated from the Master of Management of Innovation (MMI) program in 2018. Brianna is eager to continue to grow professionally and share information about innovation, health, and design.




Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into healthcare innovation?


Absolutely! I grew up in Orillia, Ontario, a small town an hour and a half north of Toronto. For fun this year past year (in our eternal lockdown) I have enjoyed decorating my partner and I’s condo, distanced hangouts with family and taking my two-year-old yellow lab pup walks around our neighbourhood.


As for my journey into healthcare innovation, it started with always knowing I wanted to work in the healthcare space, however, I didn’t always know where I wanted to fit. I went on to pursue a degree in Health Science from Western Ontario to start to figure out my place in the industry. I studied everything from the personal and social determinants of health, biology, statistics, policy, anatomy, and aging. After completing my degree, I fell in love with aging studies and wanted to gain real-life experience in the space.


I went on to work in the geriatric clinic at Sault Area Hospital and had the opportunity to shadow many professionals delivering older adult care services (social workers, nurse practitioners, nurses, occupational therapist, physiotherapists, and administration staff). It was not until I was able to shadow the Manager at the clinic who was leading a new rehabilitation project that I understood where I belonged in healthcare.


The new rehab project was designed to help older adults who had recently had hip and knee surgery transition safely from the hospital to home. This allowed better health outcomes for the older adults (more informed strength/exercise programming as well as more education on what to expect post-surgery) and better returns for the hospital (no readmissions after surgery). The program completely changed the entire existing hip and knee process.


I loved how transformative this program was, however, I quickly learned I did not have the business acumen to operationalize something like this on my own. This is when I knew I wanted to go back to school and study management and innovation. I completed my Master of Management of Innovation at the University of Toronto and completed my internship at SE Health. I have been on the Futures team for three years and have had the opportunity to innovate at multiple levels of the health care system.




What is SE Futures and its overall mission in regard to the older Canadian population?


The SE Futures team is co-creating a future where Canadians age with healthy, dignity, vitality and agency (instead of the words like pain, loneliness, sickness and dementia). We are future proofing SE Health and our broader health system.


Our focus areas for innovation include:

  1. The Future of Seniors Housing: New concepts and business models for attainable/affordable housing and build environments, and new services and experiences that enable older adults to age in the place of their choice

  2. The Future of Home Health care: Designing, incubating and scaling new models and tools to keep people healthy and self managing at home.

  3. The Future of Home Health Workforce: Building the next generation home health workforce of the future.

Our portfolio of projects spans across three horizons of innovation:

  • 10% is optimizing the current business

  • 60% is reinventing the core business (through business model evolution and new capabilities)

  • 30% focuses on creating future practices and business models that older adults need, want and expect

It’s my leader, Zayna Khayat’s role to keep an eye on the future. What are signals? What are the examples? What are the positive deviants? And then myself and the team's job is to translate those into the actions we're taking right now. We're starting with where the world's going and then working backwards.


The above and more can be found via Zayna Khayat’s interview with HIROC.


The SE Futures team is co-creating a future where Canadians age with healthy, dignity, vitality and agency (instead of the words like pain, loneliness, sickness and dementia). We are future proofing SE Health and our broader health system.



What are some projects that you are currently working on?


I am currently working on some exciting projects (if I do say so myself)! One project that we are wrapping up from over a year and a half of work focused on modernizing the entire home care experience, testing the H.O.P.E Model®.


In a nutshell: H.O.P.E. is powered by autonomous nurse teams who are empowered to deliver care that more effectively supports patients and families in achieving their life and care goals. It allows nurses to work to the full scope of their training, including integrating social needs into care plans and the delivery model. A part of this test for change was to create a living lab to pilot test SE Health’s H.O.P.E. Model® with clients, their families, neighborhoods and teams of self-directed nurses.


A key focus of the collaboration was to embed emerging technologies into the model to ensure and test how to maintain compassion while blending tech tools into the human experience of high touch home care. I was responsible for the complete technical rollout of the model. Keep an eye out on our website as we will be publishing a guidebook full our learnings at the end of the month: https://futures.sehc.com/ideas-insights/.




What has been the most rewarding experience so far with your projects in healthcare transformation?


My most rewarding experience so far working within the health sector, specifically at SE Health, has been seeing the real-life impact our work has had on the lives of others. It’s been amazing to me to learn about the real-life challenges that face the lives of the older Canadian’s and then using design and innovation methodologies to create experiences that have a massive impact on their life. We have innovated on the way care is delivered in the home, restructured the workforce that powers home health care, re-conceptualized seniors housing and so much more – all with the help of older adults themselves leading along the way.


The most recent rewarding experience from our work came from a creative partnership between Best Buy Canada, Google Canada and SE Health.


“The pandemic pushed society into a different lifestyle including the way we work, grocery shop, and interact with each other. For many older Canadians staying connected has not always been easy, and technology can play a vital role helping everyone to emotionally connect. The new initiative we developed was to help older adults in all living settings to connect using the simplicity of Google smart devices to stay connected to family and friends.” – Best Buy Canada, 2021


I was on point to help identify older adults to receive the devices and had the pleasure of delivering them to older adults and seeing them overjoyed when receiving. This project and the impact it had is something I will always remember. (Read more about this project here: Digital Inclusivity: A Best Buy, Google Canada, and SE Health initiative to help older adults stay connected)




How has COVID-19 impacted current models of treatment for the elderly population?


The below insights I am reposting directly from an article, Zayna Khayat, Future Strategist at SE Health has shared talking about the Future of Aging: Pandemic Edition. The full article can be found here.


The Future of Aging book (written by SE Health and Idea Couture) is the culmination of more than a year of research and discovery of several hundred signs that almost everything we think, know and believe about aging in the future, will be nothing like it has been in the past. The book packages those signals into 5 themes/chapters:


  1. Community

  2. Healthcare Interventions

  3. Gerontechnologies

  4. The Economy

  5. Identity of Aging

For the purposes of this question, ways in which we are seeing COVID-19 pandemic impacting current models of treatment for the older adult population I would have to state directly from Zayna’s blog, "We don’t expect older citizens or their families will go back to institution-focused, mono-channel options for healthcare going forward."

Additionally, Zayna shares the following:


During COVID, we saw most health systems go from as high as >95% of all healthcare being in-person pre-COVID to almost all care being accessed virtually (phone, text, email, app/portal or video) by the patient at home. This represents more progress for virtual healthcare service options in days than has been achieved in decades of "eHealth" investments, globally. The fair share of these channel pivots were focused on the home-bound elderly population - not only is this segment higher risk for getting sick from the virus, they also are more limited in transportation options. Beyond "telemedicine" and other virtual healthcare alternatives to in person care, several other products and services that people used to have to physically go to, were re-directed to the home using creative workarounds and business model pivots.


Some notable examples from Zayna:

  • Emergency Room (ER) at home: Organizations like CareMore health in the US developed a Community Response system where a paramedic + clinician visit an elderly person in their home so the aging adult does not need to make the trip to the ER. And, even going more upstream, Renfrew County outside of Ottawa set up a virtual ER triage centre + paramedic in-home support for people with urgent care needs who do not have a family doctor, and wish to avoid the ER.

  • Hospital at home: Many hospitals had started "@ Home" care models well before COVID hit. They ramped up the range of services available at home such as Fraser Health in BC offering pre-surgical admission at home. A few hospitals also launched new COVID care at home services for symptomatic people infected with the virus who want to stay out of hospital facilities, such as offerings from Women's College Hospital (Toronto) and Sheba Hospital (Israel)

  • Lab blood draws at home and self-testing COVID kits sent to the home, allowing for on demand and rapid, frequent testing ... instead of having the elderly travel to hard-to-reach testing lab testing sites where there is risk of personal contact. Interestingly, major US grocery chain Kroger got FDA approval for their COVID self-collection kit!



How will treatment methods and business models evolve post-COVID in the elderly health and aging space?


To answer this question I would agree with insights from an interview between Barry Chong and Zayna Khayat via MaRS Discovery District discussion on the future of health in 2019:


Treatment methods and business models will evolve post-COVID in older adult space starting with the Baby Boomers, Canada’s largest demographic. They will demand a more nimble and tailored healthcare system — one that will see care shift from the hospital to the home; from patient file folders to personal smartphones. Policy is important, but the power shift to people and their families is really what will change healthcare, and ultimately, people’s lives.


For the first time, healthcare will be designed with people’s wants and needs front and centre. There’s an entirely new market to create.


They will demand a more nimble and tailored healthcare system — one that will see care shift from the hospital to the home; from patient file folders to personal smartphones.



What do you hope the future of aging will look like in Canada?


Very aligned with the perspectives shared in SE Health and Idea Couture, The Future of Aging book, my hope for the future of older adults who are aging in Canada is that aging will no longer be seen an inevitable process of loss and decline. I hope that older adults can age gracefully in the place of their choosing and feel empowered to tap into their purpose to continually build relationships, feel connected and independent.

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