Ontario’s Hospitals ER Need Overhaul

hospital-operating-room, global news.ca

Healthcare in Canada is top-of-mind for me having just gone through a laparoscopic surgery for appendicitis last week at a major downtown Toronto hospital. Thanks to the wonders of modern medical science, such a surgery is far less invasive than an open surgery and also drastically shortens the recovery time. I was discharged from the hospital in less than 12 hours after the operation.

Most of my friends consider this a minor surgery. When compared to two of my friends who are currently fighting cancer, my health crisis was really minor and I was thankful to the team of surgeons who took care of me in the Operating Room. But never at any stage did I consider my surgery minor, because it took a full hour for the operation to take place and I was put out the entire time. During this time, a micro-camera was inserted into my airwave down my throat to watch my heart during surgery and all my muscles were paralysed. Under such circumstances, anything could have gone wrong and I’m grateful that everything went smoothly due to the skills and professionalism of the surgeons.

But my experience in the hospital’s emergency room was absolutely nightmarish and I would not want that to ever happen to me again or to any of my friends! Having been diagnosed via an abdominal ultrasound by a private clinic that I might be suffering from acute appendicitis, I was advised by my family doctor and the radiologist to walk immediately across the street into the emergency room of a major hospital. Once I got in, I literally could never have imagined that I would be starved and dehydrated for more than 50 hours before I was given surgery. Even though I walked in with a detailed ultrasound report from the private clinic, the hospital’s emergency doctor insisted that I had to go through the hospital’s own abdominal ultrasound again to confirm the diagnosis. He then forgot to ask me whether I had any allergies to the dye they use for CT scans, and when wheeled into the CT imaging room, the technician refused to conduct the imaging due to the single hive I got from the scan last year.

To make a long story short, I had to spend an extra 24 hours in the emergency room and even stayed overnight because I had to be given steroids and antihistamines in preparation for the CT scan. I was lucky that because it was a very treacherous snowstorm day, I was given a bed to spend the night after a lot of pressure from me. In the meantime, they still could not give me food or drinks (except for the IV drip) in anticipation of a possible surgery. Once the CT scan confirmed that I was inflicted with acute appendicitis, it took four hours for a houseman surgeon to see and interview me. Seven hours after the diagnosis, another team of surgeons tried to talk me out of surgery by offering to give me antibiotics to stop the inflammation so that I could be discharged and return to the hospital at a later date for surgery. I had to insist on going through surgery because I told them there’s no way I would go through this ordeal again. Besides, if I went home and my appendix burst, a straightforward, uncomplicated condition would very rapidly have turned into a life-threatening, complicated one. Eventually, the surgeon in charge was convinced and agreed to perform the surgery immediately. Once I got into the Operating Room, everything immediately improved. I had full confidence in the team of surgeons and I was right – they did a beautiful job on me and the problem was fixed!

But why does anyone have to go through those long hours of inefficiency and backlogs in the emergency rooms? Most of the nurses and doctors on duty were overwhelmed with the number of cases they had to deal with and my experience was absolutely horrible. According to Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail, hospitals in Canada are routinely at overcapacity – meaning they have more patients admitted than they have beds. I witnessed the patients on stretchers in hallways during the best of times. During the winter flu season, the situation is even worse. As Mr. Picard said in his article, “What flu season does, more than anything else, is remind us that our health system is too often contemptuous of patients. The winter surge also shines a spotlight on some chronic administrative illnesses that we talk about incessantly, but do nothing to resolve.”

The Ontario government either needs to work with the Federal Government to look into a two-tier healthcare system so that the congestion in emergency rooms of hospitals could be relieved; or they should seriously look into improving the administrative inefficiency and reducing bureaucracy and start showing some compassion for patients instead of sending them home or asking them to stay away from the ER!

I do not want to sound ungrateful because ultimately, my acute health issue got fixed. But God forbid that I, or anybody else, has to be admitted into ER again, because the picture is not getting prettier! In my post-surgery check-up with my family doctor, she said that she is constantly in awe of how her patients have been nicely treated in the Toronto hospitals and how much value-for-money those healthcare services bring. This is what we public relations professionals would say – she’s drinking her own Kool-Aid! The waiting period inside and outside ERs should really be reduced as soon as possible. Canada’s universal healthcare is no longer a national pride – it’s fast becoming a major problem for us with an aging population and no immediate solution!

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Effective Marketing To Boomers And Beyond

Depend Ad

I was recently interviewed by The Globe and Mail in an article published on January 28 about marketing retirement products and services to boomers. I mentioned that it’s very challenging to get the tone right when marketing to boomers, not just for retirement products and services, but for consumer brands as well .

But there are a few examples of brands that have got it right. The first that comes to mind is Kimberly-Clark’s seven-month-old “Underawareness” ad campaign for its Depend undergarments. According to The New York Times, “Underawareness” is a portmanteau of “underwear” and “awareness.” Even though it is aimed at consumers under 50 because nearly half of those who experience some form of urinary incontinence are under 50, it’s a clever way to talk to boomers as well. There is nothing more unglamorous than incontinence – yet, a lot of senior citizens depend on Depend diapers to protect themselves on a daily basis.

According to the brand, the goal of the campaign is to reduce the stigma of the products by showing that bladder incontinence is common and affects younger people more than many people realize. It also highlights that the products look more like underwear than resembling bulky diapers decades ago. The voice-over in the commercial said, “It’s time to bring it out in the open – it’s time to drop your pants for Underawareness. A cause to support the over 65 million people who may need Depend underwear. Show them they’re not alone, and show off a pair of Depend, because wearing a different kind of underwear is no big deal.” Instead of using elderly models, print ads and billboards in the campaign feature attractive models and the brand wanted to show the product outside of its packaging to show that even diaper-underwear could look fashionable!

According to market research firm Euromonitor International, the incontinence underwear category in the U.S. has grown steadily from $1.19 billion in 2008 to $1.55 billion in 2013 – an increase of 30 percent due to an aging population. What I like about this marketing campaign is that Kimberly-Clark understands that by addressing the stigma of incontinence products, the brand could substantially grow for both the boomer and seniors markets as well as the younger-than-50 market suffering from incontinence. It is a bold and gutsy way to embark on a marketing campaign addressing the normality of incontinence with a more fashionable underwear look than the traditional ugly and bulky diapers. Even though the ad campaign wasn’t supposedly aimed at us boomers, how could you not look at these commercials and ads and say, “I can wear that with dignity when the time comes?”

In my last blog post, I commented on Celine and YSL using more mature, authentic women as their faces, namely Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell respectively. But I think it is Prada Menswear that has gone one step further by making Prada a fashion brand for both boomers and millennials. All right, they haven’t gone all the way out to use a boomer face yet, but Prada’s Spring 2015 menswear campaign features the 45-year-old Ethan Hawke as one of its dapper models. Hawke may not fit the boomer demographic in his actual age yet, but his “Before Midnight” and, more recently, “Boyhood” fame clearly made him a boomer father by association.

The other three faces for this campaign are much younger millennial actors – the 27-year-old lead actor of Oscar-nominated movie Whiplash, Miles Teller; the 24-year-old British actor in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Jack O’Connell; and  the 20-year-old male lead of the movie Divergent, Ansel Elgort. Even though Hawke is not even 50, he looks like a father to the other three younger kids in the same ad campaign. This, in itself, should appeal to boomer men without alienating their younger counterparts.

In fact, fashion brands seem to be fascinated with age and experience this season. Apart from Celine and YSL, Dolce & Gabbana – usually an exceptionally youthful brand – featured a cluster of charming grandmothers gossip with the brand’s embellished leather bags and golden crowns gleaming against their widows’ weeds in the fashion ad. What a brilliant way to demonstrate the spirit of D&G’s Sicilian heritage!

Continuing with the salute to more mature women, Givenchy’s face this season is 47-year-old Julia Roberts while Burberry’s campaign starred iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell cuddling the 24-year-old Jourdan Dunn (somehow giving a slight hint of a mentor-mentee relationship).

Mature men and women inspire a lot of younger people, and it just appears that marketers are slowly and gradually beginning to get it!


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Mature Models: Diversification or Gimmick?

Photo Credit: Hollywood.com

Photo Credit: Hollywood.com

I was recently interviewed by Canadian Press (CP) about two marketing campaigns for leading international luxury brands featuring older models – Joni Mitchell for Yves Saint Laurent and Joan Didion for Celine. The CP article subsequently got picked up by The Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Windsor Star, Brandon Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Leader-Post, The Star Phoenix, The Huffington Post Canada, Canada.com, and the websites of Global TV News and CTV News.

The excitement about the 71-year-old Mitchell and 80-year-old Didion emerging as fashion’s newest faces generated a lot of buzz and attention in the media, both online and traditional. When the CP reporter asked me whether this was a marketing gimmick just to be different or whether the two luxury brands were trying to appeal to boomer consumers, I shared with her my thoughts as follows.

Using mature women as models for fashion brands is not entirely new. In my blog post entitled Model Boomers on February 17, 2009, I’ve already said that the fashion industry is finally getting it – you really need boomer models to appeal to boomer consumers! At that time six years ago, the 50-year-old Madonna was donning the ads for Louis Vuitton; 52-year-old Jerry Hall was the new face of Chanel; 50-year-old Twiggy was the model for Marks & Spencer; Ines de la Fresange, a former Lagerfeld muse, walked the Paris haute couture runways at 51; and Lauren Hutton becoming J. Crew’s 2009 cover girl. This trend has progressively been continuing throughout the years.  What’s new now with Mitchell and Didion is that they were not even style or fashion icons when they were younger. Canadian Joni Mitchell (who now lives in California) is a musical icon while Joan Didion is an American literary legend who has inspired so many journalists and writers. The current marketing strategy is not just focusing on external beauty, but a celebration of individuality and inherent beauty. It’s another way of saying: Beauty is not just skin deep – it’s ageless!

So are YSL and Celine trying to appeal to boomer consumers or are these two campaigns using older women more like marketing gimmicks? As luxury brands, of course, they are trying to be different and edgy. The industry chat and word-of-mouth publicity alone have been generating a lot of media and consumer buzz and that’s what advertising is all about! But I also think that marketers are following the money. In Canada alone, boomers comprise 29 percent of the national population and control more than 70 percent of Canadian wealth and close to 60 percent of consumer spending. Discerning boomer women can definitely afford luxury brands and they are not attracted by young, bone-thin and waif-like fashion models. They want to see authentic, mature women role models exuberating confidence, wisdom and vibrancy in fashion advertising.

I would also hope that these luxury-brand marketers are also, at the same time, trying to appeal to younger intelligent women who are inspired by the two musical and literary icons. Maybe by appealing to more mature consumers, YSL and Celine are also trying  to develop new markets among brainier, younger women who are not necessarily yearning to look like the skinny fashion models on the runway.

Having said that, impressive marketing campaigns are useless if they don’t have products that appeal to their target consumers. I took a quick look on the YSL and Celine websites and I have to say that there are very few items on either one that would appeal to me! It’s always a very fine line marketing to boomers – you do not want to offer dowdy-looking apparel to mature women consumers who are still stylish and fashion- conscious. At the same time, you also want to stay away from designing and making clothing that would just appeal to these women’s daughters and granddaughters who might not be able to afford these luxury brands anyway.

I salute older women who continue to pay attention to fashion and be individualistic in their own styles. That’s why I always like the fashion blog http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com (as pointed out by Professor Ben Barry of Ryerson University in the CP article as well) which features stylish, mature women in the streets of New York City. It is truly a brave and refreshing initiative which should be replicated here in Canada as well.

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Count Your New Year Blessings!


Photo Credit: Niagarafallsmarriotthotel.com

Photo Credit: Niagarafallsmarriotthotel.com

I find that as I age, new year resolutions are down to a minimum. Last year, I made five new year wishes for boomers; this year, I’ve only got one: honour the past, live In the present, and create the future!

I first saw this motto from an e-card sent to me by one of my former bosses who gave me my first job in the consultancy world, and liked it so much that I’ve decided to share with you all! This is more an attitude to live life than a resolution. But how apt for boomers – it takes at least 50 years of boomer age before you can really claim you have a past to honour and, believe it or not, we’re still young enough to help create the future!

Honour The Past

Everybody has a past life, whether it’s professional or personal. For good or for bad, happy or sad, we have survived for at least half a century (even more for some) and are still kicking! One of the nostalgic things I always do at Christmas and New Year’s is to look through some of the old photo albums and cherish the past – from childhood to high school to university days, those photographs always bring back numerous fond memories. Unlike our parents and grandparents, most of us boomers have not gone through any hardships of war. Yes, we have all suffered in our past when we went through the challenges in life – the loss of a parent, a loved one or a dear friend; falling in and out of love; fighting illnesses; setbacks in our career; or simply lost in the quest for the real meaning of life. But we also have wonderful fond memories of the past – experiences that helped shape us into who we are now. So whether we like our past or not, it’s high time that we honour and respect our past and be grateful for what we have now.

Live In The Present

It pained and disturbed me to hear that when Toronto went through an extreme cold weather alert last week, two homeless people died in the streets. Just having food and shelter alone should be a good enough reason for us to be grateful. In spite of my optimism and usual positive thinking, I have to admit that life is very fragile and nothing is permanent in this world. What’s well today may not necessarily thrive tomorrow. The same applies to people – whoever’s around this week might not be here next week. It is, therefore, always important to remember that while we should continue to plan for the future, we should also try to live in the present and enjoy life while we can. Savour every single moment of the present so that it will become a memorable past in years to come. And while we’re enjoying life and the good fortunes of what we have, try to reach out to the less fortunate ones and provide them with financial or spiritual support. Cherish quality friendship and forego superficial acquaintances. Life is too short and there’s not a single minute to waste!

Create The Future

Boomers are still young enough to make an impact on the future. We can do this by, first of all, working on ourselves. Do our best to learn something new everyday. Only by reinventing ourselves can we help others and contribute to society. Help mentor and guide the younger generation so that they can benefit from our experience. Unlike us boomers who were more fortunate with finding jobs when we graduated from university, youth unemployment is still extremely high in Canada and abroad, and whatever we can do to help the Millennials find jobs or point them in the right direction would help create a stronger society for us all. Giving back to the community either in kind or in time would also create a more sustainable future.

All in all, I’m trying to be less ambitious this year – keeping my new year resolutions to a minimum but also adopting the above-mentioned motto as my attitude in life. I will also continue to count my blessings, be more grateful and give back to the community every day. I hope you’ll do the same! Happy New Year!


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Food and Service Equally Important to Boomers

ajJboitbNUjiPX-640m I dine out a lot and am always very particular with my choice of restaurants. Just like most other boomers, I do not like noisy places where you have to yell at your friends across the table, even during a pleasant meal. I further loathe restaurants with lousy service and after giving them maybe two opportunities, I will avoid going to that restaurant if it doesn’t improve. This is the season for festive dining and breaking bread with good friends and family members. So, if you’re still considering restaurants for ushering in the new year, here’s my suggested list of top restaurants in Toronto (not necessarily in the order of preference) with good food, nice ambiance, reasonable noise level and excellent service:

BUCA Yorkville This relatively new restaurant, located in the courtyard across from The Four Seasons Hotel, is probably one of the hottest tickets in town. Seafood is always difficult to perfect, but BUCA seems to have got it right. I don’t usually like fish, but the fish and seafood dishes here are delicious. But it’s the service that probably trumps all – from the ‘reservationist’ to the maître d’ to the wait staff, this is a restaurant that knows how to train staff or hire staff with hospitality experience. The bathrooms could be cleaner at peak dining hours, and the noise level could sometimes be annoyingly high (depending on where you sit), but at least there’s no loud clubby music blasting in your ears while you’re talking! And if you really want a casual, intimate experience, you can choose to sit at the bar.

L’unita You can tell that I really favour Italian restaurants. L’unita on Avenue Road at Davenport is a neighbourhood gem. Wait staff change throughout the week and during weekends, but most of them are very good and friendly – attentive but not overbearing. Owner David is always there to greet and thank his customers. The food is always excellent and the bar scene is extremely vibrant. The restaurant’s noise level can be a bit loud, but if you try to reserve the front window seats, you will be fine. Frank Frank Restaurant at the Art Gallery of Ontario is an under-recognized gem on the borders of Chinatown. The Saturday brunch offers great value for money for a two-course meal plus coffee/tea at $30 each. AGO members are also entitled to a 10 percent discount on a-la-carte menus. I’ve had lunch, brunch and dinner there and have always been a happy customer. Server Eric is particularly good and if you book a table on the lower level, chances are that you will have him as your server. The restaurant’s tagline is “Art. Food. Talk,” so even when the noise level is a bit high on the upper level, you can still talk without yelling.

Luma Apart from Auberge du Pommier, Luma is probably the best restaurant within the Oliver and Bonacini Group. Located at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Luma offers a Canadian menu which changes quite often during the year. I love the warm and beautifully decorated room with stunning flowers around you. The patio is also a wonderful place to dine al fresco during the summer. But what makes Luma stand out is its service – I know most of the servers who always give you a warming smile and treat you as their BFF! Noise level is never a problem in this restaurant. Prior to my retirement, I’ve organized several company events there and my out-of-town visitors were always impressed by their food and service.

Nota Bene If you ask me to pick the best restaurant in town, Nota Bene is my choice. It’s been around for a long time, but I still love the food, the room, the service, and the bar. It is a restaurant that offers a proper coat-check service with a full-time person responsible for this role. So if you were wearing a fur coat, you could definitely leave it with them with a peace of mind. The bar is one of the most elegant ones in town. The washroom is beautiful and impeccably clean. The menu is always Canadian and never disappoints. This is my special-occasion restaurant – celebrating birthdays or just before a ballet performance. David Lee is one of the best chefs in Toronto, in my humble opinion. I understand that he has just opened The Carbon Bar on Queen Street East which I’ve not yet tried.

Now let’s talk about new restaurants that need some improvement. Montecito, the new Californian restaurant opened in the Entertainment District, is a new venture by Toronto native and Hollywood director Ivan Reitman. Chef Jonathan Waxman offers great food on his menu, particularly its signature chicken, but the good food is not enough to lure me back as a customer if it doesn’t improve its service. Having dined there three times, I found the service to have worsened with each visit instead of the other way round. The noise level was super loud with club music blasting everywhere. When we asked them to try lower the volume, they said yes but the noise level didn’t seem to diminish at all. The servers, including the manager, were inexperienced with poor listening skills. When you complained, there was no gesture of apologies at all. The place is beautiful and spacious, and the food is great and reasonably priced, but what a pity if its service continues to drive people away?

The new steakhouse Nao has just opened quietly on Avenue Road. It’s a beautifully decorated restaurant with an interesting and elegant bar. The food is not bad (my friend and I tried the chicken dish instead of read meat) but the servers are inexperienced. What annoyed me was that the restaurant was half empty until we left at 9 p.m., but the ‘reservationist’ said on the phone that they were full for the whole night. Is this a strategy to wait for walk-ins (there’s none that Saturday evening) or do they want to create an impression that this is hot ticket in town?

All in all, I cannot agree more with Lysiane Gagnon of The Globe and Mail: “Dining out with friends or family is more than an eating experience; it’s a convivial act, a wonderful opportunity to share a meal with people you like and exchange ideas or jokes or intuitions.” Restaurants which cannot provide such an experience should be excluded from our selection.

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