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Barbara Walczyk Joers | President & CEO | Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare

An unwavering commitment to ensuring the best care for all children and a partnership between patients and providers is the deeply rooted legacy that drives the mission of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. 123 years ago Dr. Arthur Gillette and Jessie Haskins, a student who had grown up with a complex condition, successfully lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to establish the nation’s first hospital dedicated to the care and treatment of kids with disabilities. Today, this legacy and care model continues to guide the more than 1,400 people who work at Gillette as they care for children with complex conditions, rare disorders and traumatic injuries.

Defining a Unique Care Model

Based on her own experiences with healthcare as a child, Gillette President and CEO, Barbara Walczyk Joers believes it’s important that everyone on the care team has a deep connection to the hospital’s mission and focus. “Most of our patients will require continued care and therapy throughout their life, so we built and organized our resources around a care model that treats the entire condition of a child and looks at their life goals, versus one episode of care. Such a plan helps patients and families think about what’s possible and how to reach their full potential now and throughout life.” Joers says.

This integrated practice model stands out in the current environment of consolidation in health care that can often leave patients and families feeling lost as they seek to navigate care. “Our care model is why patients choose Gillette” says Joers, “and why we feel that giving patients and families a choice in their care provider remains a priority for Gillette.” The Gillette Care Model is built on three pillars leading to the fulfillment of the vision—“Potential Realized.” These pillars are: Focused Expertise, Proactive Care Planning and Trusting Relationships.

Barbara Joers explains: “At Gillette we are fortunate to be organized around a core of well-trained and devoted pediatric specialists and sub-specialists in areas including Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM &R), Orthopedics, Neurology, Neurosurgery and Complex Care Pediatrics. This depth and breadth of expertise forms the foundation for our care – many of our providers are truly the best of the best, leading research and filling conference sessions around the world when they speak.”

This amazing depth of expertise, combined with 120-plus years of experience allows Gillette care teams to develop innovative and sophisticated care plans with families, says Joers. Proactive, individualized care planning, along with focused expertise, help establish and build trusting relationships with patients and families. “Parents come to us in a moment when their hopes and dreams for their child have been thrown into doubt,” Joers continues. “Maybe this parent just heard a diagnosis for their child or they witness their child endure a trauma due to an accident. Whatever brings a parent through our doors and to seek our help is often due to something life changing and unexpected.”

Joers Inspiration

Joers speaks from experience. Her dedication to patient care came at an early age. “When I was five I was found to have a middle ear condition that impacted my hearing, facial structure and speech. From there, several surgeries were done. During one of those surgeries I had a bad experience with a clinical staff member. While my surgeon was tending to the result of the incident, which was in the middle of the night, I asked how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Instead of giving me orders or ideas for when I was hospitalized next – he leaned down to me and said “run a hospital—and do it right.”

This experience drove Joers to pursue a career in hospital administration and ultimately to Gillette where she remains focused on the vison established by Dr. Gillette and the patients Gillette continues to serve.

This clear focus on mission and vision can help clear the fog of anxiety and help everyone surrounding and supporting this child to find a path and plan. “Our first goal is to let the family know that we’ll help them discover and understand everything their child can do. As we work to help children reach their full potential strong bonds will develop.”

The Gillette care model has a broad impact: the hospital sees patients from every Minnesota county each year, and over the last three years has seen children from all 50 US states and over 30 foreign countries.

Pediatric Rehabilitation Expertise and Much More

While recognized nationally and internationally for their rehabilitation program, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is that and more. “We began as a surgical hospital, offering interventions to correct musculoskeletal deformities to improve function and mobility” states Joers. “From the beginning our patients needed rehabilitation and time to regain physical function. Over time our teams saw the importance of physical medicine and rehabilitation, physical, occupational and speech therapies, as well as custom orthotics, prosthetics and seating services in offering a full system of care for the children we treat.”

Gillette’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Program is one of the most comprehensive in the nation and is just one of eight in the U. S. and only hospital in the Upper Midwest to earn the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) for pediatric specialty program and brain injury. Gillette has the highest concentration of pediatric rehabilitation medicine specialists in the nation who work with children, adolescent and select adult patients with a wide variety of complex conditions. “Our rehabilitation services, both inpatient and outpatient, are among the best in the world and our outcomes show it” states Joers.

A shining example of Gillette’s rehabilitation care model in action is the Cerebral Palsy program. “We are one of the top centers globally, really – for children with Cerebral Palsy” explains Joers. “We take a long-term, team focused approach to the proper diagnosis, management and selection of interventions in the treatment of Cerebral Palsy. The family will work with a team of providers including PM&R physicians, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, neurologists and physical therapists to understand the type and severity of Cerebral Palsy.” Gillette’s teams engage with physicians and clinicians from multiple countries to share protocols and to help advance care for children regardless of their location.

Honored and Humbled to be Trusted

While Gillette remains focused on its core mission, Joers also recognizes that “change is constant in healthcare” and the hospital remains ready to adapt and move forward to ensure the best continues care for its patients. In 1890, Dr. Gillette addressed the Minnesota Academy of Medicine and said “Overcoming deformity is the first thing; the next and very important too, is to keep it so.” Barbara affirms this legacy of commitment saying, “Everyone who works at Gillette is driven by this responsibility and are inspired by our patients and our mission each day. At Gillette we want ALL children to be given the opportunity to realize their potential.”

You can know more about the center by visiting www.gillettechildrens.org