Standing amidst the crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of Women's College Hospital's Hospital of the Future on June 13, 2013, Michele Landsberg was "overwhelmed with happiness."
"I looked around and saw our premier [Kathleen Wynne], our health minister [Deb Matthews], our wonderful CEO [Marilyn Emery] - all women, all there to help us celebrate," remembers the award-winning journalist, author, social activist, feminist and Officer of the Order of Canada. "I was so proud of all of them and of that moment in Ontario's history when women had come so far. It was a crowning moment."
The unveiling of the state-of-the-art ambulatory care facility built to revolutionize healthcare for women capped 40 years of ardent support for Landsberg. She chose WCH for the birth of her daughter Ilana in 1965, because "it seemed to me it was a hospital for women in a time when women's health concerns were secondary and there weren't many women doctors." She returned to deliver son Avi in 1967. Some years later, she was treated at WCH for breast cancer.
Women's College Hospital was often the subject of Landsberg's Toronto Star column, which served as a clarion voice of women's rights in Canada and around the world. When the merger with Sunnybrook was announced in the 1990s, Landsberg used her column to lobby for WCH as an independent, women-focused hospital. Even now, eight years after the de-amalgamation, the decision to merge sparks an outpouring of emotion.
"It was such a crazy idea to close a hospital tailor-made for half the population and say that's not important," she says. "I had to fight!"
Fight she did. So hard, in fact, that Landsberg was elected head of Women's College Hospital's board of directors in 2005. Over the next four years, she shepherded the hospital through its divorce from Sunnybrook and rebirth as an example of how healthcare can and should be practiced. Her term as chair ended in 2009, but her time on the board did not. It was in this capacity that she proudly attended the hospital's phase one opening last year.
Today, one year shy of half a century since she first set foot in the hospital to deliver her daughter, Landsberg is poised to begin another new chapter in her relationship with Women's College Hospital.
She will retire from the WCH board of directors in June.
"I looked around at the last board meeting and I'm very happy with the makeup of the board. They're such strong women of great capacity who lend enormous strength to the hospital's governance," she says. "I feel content to retire now. It feels perfect."
The hospital and board plan to recognize Landsberg's many contributions with the creation of the Michele Landsberg Lecture Series.
"Isn't that incredible?" laughs Landsberg. While the details of the lecture series are still being worked out, she hopes it will open WCH's doors to new information, inspire young healthcare professionals, stimulate research and, ultimately, influence the future of medical practice.
"Women's College Hospital is small compared to other hospitals, but we're making a big contribution to the health system of the whole. I'm very proud of that and of our superb doctors, researchers and scientists. They're outstanding."
"Women's will always be close to my heart. I''ll be very glad to have my name continue in association with the hospital."
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