Dawne Barbieri: Leading Mental Health Care, Healthifying the Globe

Dawne Barbieri | Vice President | Clinical Services and Research

Since the historical timeline of socioeconomic discoveries, human life has been constantly inventing and progressing in order to gift itself a meaningful and healthy future. However, on that lifeboat, people are navigating several storms, one of which is mental health.

As per various research studies of contemporary times, one in three people faces mental health issues. In such times, the world must look beyond physical health and consider mental health as well. To meet this demand, many organizations around the world are developing cutting-edge methods for improving people’s mental health.

Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) is one such organization. It offers compassionate, research-based, technology-enabled and patient-centric therapeutic solutions to help people achieve improved mental health and live a more fulfilled life.

Dawne Barbieri, one of the organization’s Vice President of Clinical Services and Research, is a standout leader who is driving this quality care. She began as a clinical educator and mentor in the mental healthcare field and is passionate about serving patients and scaling up the current healthcare sector.

Let’s take a closer look at how Dawne is making her mark in this niche!

Her Journey

Dawne has been a registered nurse for almost 40 years, and she considers this a privilege. Nursing has allowed her to gain experience in a variety of roles within the healthcare system. Her professional journey has been accompanied by many outstanding staff and physicians, who have made her realize the importance of recognizing excellent work and the contributions made by the various teams she worked with. She has also spent the last 20 years as an Accreditation Canada Surveyor, which has given her many examples of excellent healthcare provided by teams in various sectors across Canada and many other international healthcare organizations.

Her passion for working with patients and families and improving healthcare pulls her back from retirement every time she plans to. She says, sharing about her professional journey, “I began my career in mental health before moving on to medicine, emergency care, and intensive care nursing. I became a Clinical Educator, mentoring and coaching many wonderful and caring nurses, which satisfied my desire to teach while also providing patient care. I rose through the ranks of several healthcare organizations in the Greater Toronto Area, eventually becoming a senior leader and site executive. Planning and opening a hospital was one of the highlights of my career.”

Having held various positions (currently Vice President, Clinical Services and Research) at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, she remarks, “I can honestly say it is the best organization I’ve ever worked for. Every day, it’s a pleasure to come to work and meet our patients, staff, physicians, and volunteers.”

The nursing journey in the mental healthcare system has come full circle for her, as she says, “I feel like I’ve returned home.” These professional victories haven’t been smooth, but she is setting an example as a female leader who created avenues in the most difficult times to reach her current career position.

Blooming through Challenges

There were a bundle of obstacles in her way like she was subjected to stereotypes that were prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, such as choosing nursing over medicine, for not being smart enough, or that if a woman was attractive, promotions might not be earned for the right reasons. She says, “There were also times when I had to make difficult decisions, and several negative adjectives were used to describe my approach, whereas male colleagues who made similar decisions were described as being courageous and simply tough.”

Rather than being dismayed and personalizing those comments, she was determined to be a role model for women and nurses by demonstrating professionalism and collaboration.

Over time, she discovered that self-reflection and effective emotional intelligence enabled her to appropriately evaluate situations and be the best leader she could be. She never let gender stand in the way of her success. She comments, “You will succeed if you use a situational leadership model and excellent communication skills to focus on both goal achievement and relationship development. For me, it’s not about me; I’m a servant leader. It is about other people.”

This positive attitude has made her capable of leading and guiding operations at Ontario Shores. Through her guidance and the organization’s distinctive offerings, the Canada-based healthcare provider is creating a great impact in the healthcare industry.

Influencing with its USPs

Ontario Shores was one of the first organizations to sign the Declaration of Commitment to Recovery of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The declaration’s goal is to spark discussion, build support, and accelerate the adoption of the recovery philosophy in mental health organizations.

Throughout the organization, Ontario Shores employs a recovery model of care. The principles of empowerment, hope, recovery, collaboration, identity, responsibility, and meaning in life underpin the Interprofessional Collaborative Recovery Model.

This patient-centered approach to the treatment of mental illness combines medical, rehabilitation and psychological perspectives. It promotes patient inclusion and empowerment while also providing treatment options tailored to the individual needs of patients to support their well-being. She shares, “We will continue to seek opportunities to advance recovery-oriented practices, participate in discussions about recovery-focused programs and services, and share our knowledge and tools with others.”

Infusing Technology for Optimal Care

Ontario Shores’ mission is to provide exemplary mental health care through specialized treatment, research, education and advocacy. With a bold and transformative vision, Ontario Shores is widely recognized for its approach to mental health care and unique services centered on recovery, hope and inspiration through discovery.

In terms of technology, one of their vision statements is Revolutionizing Care, which means having a global impact on the way mental health care is delivered; leading system innovation with partners to transform care; and using real-time data, research, analytics, and measurement to drive the highest standard of care. She shares, “Over the years, we’ve launched new programs, services and innovative technology platforms and applications to better connect patients with their care.”

Its research team employs technology and innovation and seeks to improve recovery and mental health outcomes through an applied approach and provides a strategic vision for how Ontario Shores will innovate to reduce stigma, improve recovery outcomes and support, promote population-level health, and design and evaluate services. Specifically, people affected by complex mental health conditions across their lifespan, as well as their caregivers.

Its researchers work with service users, their families, and the broader community to improve clinical practices and assess the impact of services on the quality of care, user outcomes and experiences.

To integrate technological solutions, over the years, the organization has fostered important collaborations to advance innovation and technology with Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care (Waypoint), The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group (The Royal) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The team also has established partnerships with several academic institutions, including Ontario Tech University, Trent University, the University of Toronto, and Durham College.

Research Impact Canada is expanding its national approach to include a focus on clinical practice transformation based on Ontario Shores’ leadership in utilizing knowledge mobilization methodologies and impact measures to dramatically shorten the delay in translating research into improvements in the quality of care and the patient experience. Sharing about their membership with Research Impact Canada, she says, “I am also proud to share that we are the first no postsecondary education member of Research Impact Canada (RIC), intending to develop institutional capacities for developing and sharing knowledge mobilization best practices, services, and tools.”

At Ontario Shores, the teams are exploring innovative mental health technology and solutions that will give Canadians barrier-free and fair access to necessary services for their long-term health and allow them to age with dignity in their homes and communities. Ontario Shores will harness its in-house knowledge, data, and services to create a Mental Health Innovation Accelerator, the first of its kind worldwide.

Additionally, Ontario Shores is the world’s first mental health hospital to be certified by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM) at Stage 7, which improves patient safety, decreases time, and errors, and improves care delivery while using secure data.

Portal Establishing the Patient-Doctor Bond

The technological leverage is utilized by the organization to customize its services. One such tailored service is through its portal – My Health My Way. Dawne believes that access to their health information promotes autonomy and collaboration in their care.

Talking about Ontario Shores USP – My Health My Way, Dawne says, “I believe the My Health My Way portal contributes to Ontario Shores’ priority of patient-centered care by enhancing two-way communication with our patients. Because mental health and addiction healthcare issues are chronic, the patient and family must commit to an ongoing engagement with the care team and their recovery plan of care.”

Dawne elaborates on other advantages the portal offers, and says, “Outpatients, in particular, can use the portal to gain timely access to their healthcare information, such as assessment and progress notes written by members of their care team. Patients can review medication information to ensure they are fully informed about this aspect of their care plan.” 

Tailoring the Patient Care Delivery

In contemporary times where people like being in touch with medical attendants or facilities as quickly as possible, it is important for healthcare organizations to expand their reach and provide services while enabling access and affordability. As a public specialty hospital, Ontario Shores has built a solid foundation of care and is an organization that is fundamentally changing the way mental health care is delivered.

They have, in recent years, increased their efforts in public awareness, education and research, but they also recognize that additional work is needed to ensure that mental health care is more accessible and inclusive. To support this goal, they have recently launched a bold new Strategic Plan to serve as their guide. Talking about its current expansions in ensuring quality with convenience and cost-effectiveness, Dawne says, “We have launched new programs and services, as well as innovative technology applications, with the goal of better connecting patients with their care, including the option of virtual care, which matches patients to the level and type of service that best meets their needs.”

To guide other aspiring entrants in the field and deliver services based on the idea of coordinating with patients’ needs, Dawne shares a few notes from her years of experience. 

The Leader’s Guide

Many budding entrepreneurs might resonate with the statement that to challenge the status quo, it is necessary to be curious and open-minded. Giving depth to this piece of advice, Dawne says, “If you cultivate a passion for asking questions and taking on the “why not” position of others, you will be in a better position to make a difference in the world of mental health and addictions.”

She further adds on and says, “However, simply asking questions and being curious is insufficient. It is necessary to take risks and be willing to implement solutions that may not be perfect but are preferable to being incapacitated by the fear of making the wrong decision. Take responsibility for your decisions. And if they don’t produce the desired results, try again.”

Notes of Customer’s Trust

“As a patient at Ontario Shores during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to see firsthand how quickly the staff at Ontario Shores adapted to challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Recovering from an eating disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy. The extra stressors of the pandemic have made battling mental illness more challenging. Despite being amidst a pandemic, recovery is still possible and is still worth it. To all of those battling mental illness, keep fighting for recovery, and don’t feel guilty for reaching out to your support systems, especially during these challenging times. Thank you to all the staff at Ontario Shores, from support staff to medical professionals, who have continued to support patients on their path to recovery despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work that you do daily has a meaningful impact.” – Sterling

“For many years, I have suffered from anxiety and depression. Despite the suffering and the negative impact, it had been on me physically, emotionally, and socially, I refused to seek help and kept my mental illness to myself. From a young age, starting with my suicidal attempt at the age of 8, I knew there was something wrong with me. However, I grew up with the notion that being mentally unstable meant being weak. When I reached adulthood, I became an expert at hiding my mental illness.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not something that can disappear, no matter how hard you try. During my first pregnancy, I suffered from prenatal and postpartum depression and the same during my second pregnancy. However, during my second pregnancy, I decided to seek help, but I did not proceed with any treatment over the fear of judgment from those around me, but mostly the feeling of shame I felt for myself.

Then, during my third pregnancy, I went through a severe mental breakdown which led me to admit myself to a mental health inpatient unit. After the incident, I was determined to seek help and better myself not only for myself but for my children. I was referred to Ontario Shores LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart Women’s Clinic by my psychiatrist and the attending psychiatrist.

As each session went by, I came to embrace myself and learn to positively cope with my anxiety and depression. I began to feel differently about myself and I developed confidence in who I am. There are times when I do feel overwhelmed and I revert to my depressive state.

But, my therapy has allowed me to know that it’s okay. I’ve learned to know it’s okay to seek help and be helped. I will be forever grateful to Bernadette, who taught me that it takes strength to seek help, and to the Ontario Shores LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart Women’s Clinic, for giving me a new outlook on life.” – Grace

“In seven years, I managed to transform my life from someone hopeless to someone with the tools to create hope. I will always be grateful to Ontario Shores for giving me my hope back.” – Chelsea

“Ontario Shores is a great place where recovery happens, good work is being done, and lives are being saved.” – Stephen

The Organization and its Inception

Ontario Shores celebrated 100 years of care in 2019. As expected, much has changed in mental health care since 1919. “Whitby Hospital” started modestly with 16 gender-segregated cottages. When WWI broke out in 1914, the hospital was temporarily turned over to the military for personnel awaiting overseas service, and it was later used as a military hospital to treat veterans. The hospital was temporarily renamed the Ontario Military Hospital.

Following WWI, in July 1919, the veterans left Whitby to return to civilian life, and on October 23, that same year, Whitby reopened as a psychiatric facility, renamed the Ontario Hospital to provide mental health care and care to the ones affected. The province’s first mental health clinic opened in 1930, along with occupational, recreational, and vocational therapy. In the 1960s, “Ontario Hospital, Whitby” became “Whitby Psychiatric Hospital.”  In 1993, Ontario approved $133 million for a 325-bed mental health facility. Whitby Psychiatric Hospital became Whitby Mental Health Centre in 1994, adding outpatient care and reintegration to the community.

In 2004, it was decided to divest and become a stand-alone facility governed under the Public Hospitals Act. Excellence, innovation, safety, respect, and community guided Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences’ 2006 founding. Shortly thereafter, Ontario Shores embarked on its first five-year strategic plan.

Creating a vision, mission and brand for the hospital’s expanded mandate to provide leadership and excellent mental health care via specialized treatment, research, education and advocacy. Ontario Shores’ beautiful landscape fosters a recovery-oriented, compassionate, inspiring and hopeful environment. It’s important to express gratitude for being welcomed on these lands, which are protected by the Williams Treaties and the historic territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the Anishinaabeg Nation.

Awards and Accolades

  • Ontario Shores has been awarded Accreditation with Exemplary Standing status following a recent review by Accreditation Canada. It has maintained Accreditation with Exemplary Standing since first achieving that status in 2013.
  • Ontario Shores has been named a Greater Toronto Area Top Employer for the sixth straight year. Ontario Shores was among select organizations named one of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers for 2022 following a competition that evaluated employers on several criteria, including work atmosphere, vacation benefits, training and development, financial and health benefits, the physical environment, and community involvement. Ontario Shores achieved the Order of Excellence Award from Excellence Canada for its implementation of Excellence Canada’s Mental Health at Work® Framework. It is especially proud of this distinction for our efforts to establish and maintain a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.
  • Ontario Shores is the world’s first mental health hospital to be certified by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM) at Stage 7, which improves patient safety, decreases time and errors and improves care delivery while using secure data.
  • Ontario Shores became the first non-academic member to join Research Impact Canada (RIC), a pan-Canadian network of 23 universities and one non-academic institution committed to maximizing the economic, social and environmental impacts of academic research.



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