Life Lessons: Jennifer Duff

The director of mental health, Providence Health Care, discusses how transparency makes hard decisions easier
Jennifer Duff, director of mental health, Providence Health Care

Jennifer Duff was just 33 when she was hired as director of mental health at Providence Health Care. She was promoted to the position after managing several nursing units at St. Paul's Hospital.

She soon learned that making decisions at the director level also requires taking on a new level of responsibility.

"Not only is it more stressful, but the demands are greater, and the expectations are greater. The issues and the problems are more complex, and you're forced to make decisions that you know may positively affect some people and may negatively affect some people."

Being accountable for multiple programs has led to a whole new point of view.

"As a manager, I was left to implement things. Senior management made a decision … [and I would say] 'We're doing this everybody, and I'm tasked with putting it into operation. I'm really sorry if it affects you negatively, but this is what we're doing.' And now in my role, I make those decisions."

To bolster her decision-making confidence, Duff drew on two core values espoused by Providence Health Care: integrity and stewardship.

"[Integrity means] communication that is open and transparent, that there's no hidden agenda. 'We're going to review this aspect of the program, I'm going to let you know very transparently what the results of that review are, here is the data we collected, here are the responses we collected.'

Duff is now leading changes to St. Paul's psychiatric outpatient services, reforming an old-fashioned care model and tackling long patient wait times.

"I think as long as you behave as a leader with integrity, that you're doing the right thing for the patients and the families that we serve, and that you've being fiscally responsible with respect to stewardship of public dollars, then you know you're doing the right thing."

On pacing yourself | "As a new director and as a motivated person, I can be very excited. It's easy to say, 'Oh, we need to do this, this and this, and want to do it all in year one.' Really, to make that proper change … [you have] to pace [yourself]. Stakeholder engagement, working with multiple partners … change takes time. You can't do it all in year one. Strategically, what are the big wins, what are the things we need to do right now to make a difference and what are the things that we need to work toward?"

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