Dr. Simone Meikleham named MHC chief of staff

Outgoing MHC chief of staff Dr. Stephen Cooper, left, is passing over the reins to Dr. Simone Meikleham, who will assume the chief of staff role for a one-year initial contract effective September 1.

LITTLE CURRENT – Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC)’s next chief of staff, Dr. Simone Meikleham, will be taking over for Dr. Stephen Cooper who is stepping back effective September 1, with the incumbent receiving strong backing from the MHC executive team.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with the MHC board and senior management. I haven’t really done that before all this COVID-19 started, so it’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Dr. Meikleham told The Expositor.

Dr. Meikleham has been a family doctor for 23 years, with the past 13 spent at the Little Current Family Health Team (beginning just after Dr. Cooper became chief of staff). She took over for Dr. Roy Jeffery when he was expected to retire. She has also serviced Whitefish River First Nation and Wiikwemkoong.

“That definitely was the best decision I’ve made career-wise; I’ve been very happy working here,” she said. 

She was born in Sudbury and raised there and the North Shore area, attended the University of Western Ontario for medical school and residency and has been working in Northern Ontario for her whole professional career. The small-town life is where she finds comfort, she said.

Dr. Meikleham has served as secretary of the medical advisory committee for the past year and is already familiar with some of the governance structures of the hospital.

She has been the lead physician on the emergency department committee and been part of the inpatient committee, as well as the quality assurance committee at the Little Current clinic. She was briefly chief of staff in Espanola before moving to Little Current, something she said was a valuable learning experience of the roles and limitations within this position.

Dr. Cooper will still be involved with the hospital, such as with the transition to electronic health records and other day-to-day activities, which will further aid Dr. Meikleham as she adjusts.

“Chief of staff, as much as it’s a leadership role, it’s also a team role where you work with others. I find that’s where I’ve always been happiest, sitting at the table, working with others, lending a voice and helping people achieve shared goals,” said Dr. Meikleham.

She praised the Island health community’s preparedness for COVID-19 and said she has been moving toward this new role for the past 15 months with the hospital administration. 

“They (invited me to) be the secretary of the professional staff, which I thought was just going to be taking notes. It turned out that meant I had to sit on the medical advisory committee which is the one that senior management sits at … something I hadn’t been around for a decade,” she said.

Dr. Cooper began dropping hints that he was planning to step down as chief of staff and ultimately made the recommendation that Dr. Meikleham be his replacement.

The two have next-door offices and Dr. Meikleham said she has gleaned much from that close connection. Her role will initially be focused internally, though this will grow as her comfort level increases and the threat of COVID-19 begins to diminish. She said she was looking forward to working more with the Mindemoya hospital site.

“As chief of staff, your scope of influence increases. It’s not only at your personal practice and clinic, but at the hospital level and even as a representative of the hospital beyond that on Manitoulin-wide boards and regional boards as well,” she said, adding that she hopes to further Dr. Cooper’s work of external advocacy for the health of Islanders. 

Dr. Meikleham’s personal philosophy is steeped in partnerships, something that fits with MHC’s culture. This will also be an asset as the Manitoulin Collaborative, a group of Island health care providers, continues its campaign to form an Ontario Health Team and find new ways to work together.

“I’m super impressed with how everybody seems focused on providing the best possible health care to community members. I’m hoping that this position will allow me to help people achieve those goals,” she said.

Dr. Meikleham does not come from a long line of medical professionals but her mother was a personal support worker, her sisters are a physiotherapist and occupational therapist respectively, and one of her daughters is a nurse while her youngest is finishing university.

Dr. Cooper is stepping down from the position because of his many leadership roles in the region and Ontario, as well as to enable a smoother transition before his own career winds down within a decade.

“She’s got the ability, the organizational skills and the personality to pull it off very, very well,” said Dr. Cooper at the May 28 MHC board meeting.

“Dr. Meikleham has shown a lot of leadership over the past years through the COVID experience, with primary care. The senior team has a lot of confidence in her abilities,” added MHC VP of clinical services and chief nursing officer Paula Fields.

The board approved Dr. Meikleham for a one-year term as chief of staff as opposed to the usual three years, per her request, allowing her to get a feel for the position.