Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 2, 2009
Health care leader walks his talk
John Brennan says volunteering is the way to make faith be real
WCR PHOTO|RAMON GONZALEZ
John Brennan is chair of the board for Alberta's province-wide Catholic health authority – Covenant Health.
BY RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — John Brennan prays often and attends church regularly. In fact he walks 15 minutes every Sunday to get to church. But the chair of the board of Covenant Health is better known as a man of action who walks the talk.
“I’m not someone that rabble rouses for an institutional Church,” Brennan, 67, readily declares. “You’ve got to demonstrate what you believe by what you do. I think that’s how I characterize what faith does for me.”
Brennan, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in southwest Edmonton, demonstrates his faith through volunteering, something he has done throughout his life.
“My view is that we must participate in organizations that keep society operating,” he says. “Volunteering is a way we can make society better for ourselves and others.”
Brennan, a retired chartered accountant and business school professor, has been volunteering in Alberta’s faith-based health care sector for several years.
He joined the board of Caritas Health Group in 2003 as a member of the audit finance committee. In 2005 he was “coerced” to become chairperson of Caritas’ board of directors, devoting much of his time since then to strengthening Catholic health care in the capital region and across Alberta.
Recently the bishops of Alberta appointed Brennan chair of the board of directors of the newly-created Covenant Health, Canada’s largest Catholic health care provider.
Covenant Health was formed in 2008 to bring together 16 Catholic facilities in 11 communities across Alberta.
Altogether, Covenant Health has close to 2,400 beds, a budget of about $600 million and a team of more than 12,500 staff, physicians and volunteers at sites in Banff, Bonnyville, Camrose, Castor, Edmonton, Killam, Lethbridge, Mundare, St. Albert, Trochu and Vegreville.
“I’m enjoying it,” Brennan said in a recent interview. “I take pleasure in being involved with Covenant Health because of the service. It is giving in a way that’s consistent.”
He brings a wealth of knowledge to the new board, especially in the areas of governance, strategic planning and clinical management.
The holder of a doctorate in accounting from the University of Michigan, Brennan served as dean of the College of Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan and was on faculty for more than 30 years, beginning in 1967.
He also served on several boards including the Saskatoon Airport Authority, Wascana Energy Inc., Banff School of Advanced Management, Institute of Canadian Bankers, Victory Majors Investments, as well as several national and international professional and academic committees.
His plan was to spend his retirement playing golf but that didn’t last.
In 2000 Brennan was persuaded to move to Edmonton to take over as CEO of the Chartered Accountants School of Business. He also became a member of the Rotary Club of Edmonton and began volunteering with Caritas.
HEALTH CARE MANAGEMENT
“At that time I knew nothing about the delivery of health care or the management of health care operations,” he recalls. Now he provides leadership in the field.
“Faith-based facilities are dramatically better (because) we deliver health care in a compassionate, holistic manner — body, soul and mind,” he proclaims.
Working side by side with Brennan is Covenant Health’s president and CEO Patrick Dumelie, who formerly held those positions with Caritas Health Group in the Edmonton area.
Among other things, the 11-member Covenant board provides direction and guidance to Covenant Health, hires and evaluates its president and CEO, sets strategic planning and ensures the effective use of resources.
The provincial board also works with local community and foundation boards to identify and address local needs and depends on strong local leadership to achieve its vision of greater service.
“As we coordinate programs and services, share our strengths and resources, and improve communications with a single point of leadership and accountability, we will be able to grow and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable across the province,” the chair of the board says.
ROOM FOR GROWTH
Areas where Brennan sees room for growth include seniors’ care and mental health. His hope is to establish new Catholic facilities to meet pressing needs in these areas.
“Out of 50 health care facilities that were established in Alberta by orders of sisters we are now down to 16,” he laments. “We understand how that happened. But I think we are now at a stage where we can start looking at establishing additional facilities. The unmet needs are incredible out there.”
Born and raised in Montreal, Brennan graduated with a bachelor of commerce from Loyola College, a Jesuit college, in 1962.
“I had some great friends who were Jesuits but (the priesthood) was never a calling of mine,” he said. He knew from early in life that he wanted to be an accountant.
Following graduation, Brennan worked as a chartered accountant for two years. In 1964 he married his wife Beverley, a chartered accountant as well, and then headed to Michigan to get his MBA “with the firm expectation that I would come back to Canada and make a million dollars.”
But he got deflected in Michigan, where he was persuaded to get a PhD in accounting and become a professor. “I have yet to make the million dollars,” Brennan laughs.
But someone in his family may still achieve that mark. Two of Brennan’s three adult children are chartered accountants and the other, a mother of four, is married to one.