2018 BC CEO Awards: Teri Nicholas

Caring for others: BC Children’s Hospital Foundation executive leads facility to new heights through personal motivation

BC Children’s Hospital Foundation CEO Teri Nicholas: “I was grateful for what I had growing up. I live in a world of generosity” | Chung Chow

For Teri Nicholas, the last year has been an eventful one. Not counting her personal life – the lead executive running one of B.C.’s most prominent charities just welcomed a new grandchild to her family – Nicholas also completed perhaps one of the most successful years in recent non-profit memory.

That’s because Nicholas, president and CEO of the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, was at the helm of the organization when the facility welcomed a high-profile mega-addition – the $640 million, 640,000-square-foot Teck Acute Care Centre, which opened late in 2017.

The culmination of a $200 million capital campaign that was completed in 2014, the new care centre’s opening was a massive milestone for the hospital, Nicholas said, because the centre not only featured the latest developments in pediatric care, but also symbolized the overall philosophy of BC Children’s Hospital in its approach to caring for children in need.

“It’s an experience that makes kids feel like they are on an adventure, rather than getting a procedure,” Nicholas said, noting the hospital painstakingly planned themes for each of the centre’s eight floors, including sea life on the first floor and space travel in the oncology section on the eighth. “There’s this little girl that has been coming to our hospital since birth – she’s eight now – and she walked into the centre with her mom, and she [said], ‘Mom, I thought we were going to the hospital.… This is not a hospital. It doesn’t look like a hospital, and it doesn’t even smell like a hospital.’”

Focus on such details make a difference. Research has shown that patients’ mental and emotional well-being contributes to their recovery process, something that Nicholas said the hospital incorporates into a “mind, body and spirit” holistic approach to treating children and helping their families.

For Nicholas, that attention to a patient’s need to feel loved and cared for comes from her appreciation for the love and support she received from her family while growing up. That support spurred her own determination to help others – especially those in need like marginalized women and children. That resolve is reflected in her current and past work; before her current stint at BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, she spent a decade as the CEO at Family Services of Greater Vancouver.

“I was grateful for what I had growing up,” Nicholas said. “I live in a world of generosity; I come from an Italian family, and there were lots of people who surrounded me in my growth. From very early on, I wanted to share that with others. That awareness of the environment that I had, and the realization that many, many kids don’t have that, was the key.”

Nicholas gravitated towards management in the sector, completing a Women in Management Certificate at Simon Fraser University (SFU) before graduating with a master’s degree in social policy at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1992. While she remembered being one of the few students in her UBC program who moved towards management rather than direct social work, Nicholas said the direction she took was no coincidence.

“I think it was while I was doing the SFU program that I realized I can help people in the best way if I moved into management,” she said. “So everything began with moving towards loving others, but also at the same time knowing that if I was going to make systematic change, that I could do it in a better place in a leadership role.

“If you want to take it to the next level, it’s about how to influence change in the greater system; and with that, you can help more people.”

It’s that type of thinking that led Nicholas to become an integral part of launching Vancouver’s fist safe house for street kids, the Directions Youth Services centre. Since joining the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation in 2011, Nicholas has also focused on both building support within Vancouver’s rapidly changing communities and advancing the overall public awareness of challenges facing children’s health care in the province.

About $50 million of the $200 million capital campaign for the Teck Acute Care Centre, for instance, was dedicated for the launch of the Child Health BC program, to help build clinics around the province and send doctors to locations outside of Vancouver to provide care to children in need as close to the patients’ homes as possible.

Child Health BC is especially vital to the hospital’s role as steward of the province’s child care, Nicholas said, because while BC Children’s Hospital serves a population of about a million kids in the province, more than 60% of pediatric hospitalizations happen outside of the hospital’s main Vancouver location.

“Yes, we have this incredible hospital here … but if there are followups that require clinics, we’ve created this program to bring services closer to home,” Nicholas said. “We build clinics around the province, and our doctors go to these clinics so families don’t have to travel so far. So if you need to come to the hospital, you don’t need to stay here in Vancouver for three days; you can go to the clinic on that one day, then go home. And the greatest gift we can give to families is the fact that parents don’t have to miss work or be separated from their other children.”

To support efforts like the acute care centre and Child Health BC, Nicholas and her team have maintained close relationships with donor communities. Last year, the foundation’s Miracle Weekend event raised more than $20.3 million, and a following Crystal Ball event raised another $2.8 million.

Under Nicholas’ watch, the hospital foundation has also maintained support from Chinese and South Asian communities. She notes the hospital runs a Young Ambassador program in the Chinese community to promote fundraising and community service. She said the hospital foundation wants to roll out the program in other minority communities around Metro Vancouver.

“I love what I do, and I bring that passion and energy to work every single day,” Nicholas said. “The beauty of it is that this is a cause I’m really passionate about, and every day, when we are here – I think if you ask anyone of our team – we remember why we are here. So if you are having a tough day, just take a walk through the hospital.… It reminds us of why we are here.” 

Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2018 BC CEO Awards November 15, 2018, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/ceo.