He once headed Royal University Hospital (RUH) and was the man behind the Patient First Review of health care in Saskatchewan. Yet he was always viewed by staff as approachable.

Former president and CEO of RUH Tony Dagnone spent a couple of days with Saskatoon Health Region’s president and CEO, Dan Florizone last week, providing insight into patient care initiatives, and sharing the history of RUH, and his approach to leadership.

Tony Dagnone and Dan Florizone

Tony Dagnone (left) and Dan Florizone at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, where Dagnone once served as President and CEO.

“I hear often that Tony was always friendly, and always approachable,” said Florizone. “That’s why I wanted to connect with him. There was a real pride among the employees about where they worked when he was in charge. We are a larger organization now, but I think we need to take ourselves back to those roots, to that pride.”

Dagnone was president and CEO of RUH from 1977 to 1992. He started working as the assistant to the hospital administrator (the title would eventually change to president and CEO) in 1967, with the major responsibility of planning the expansion of the facility. He was behind the 1969 master plan for the renovation that added the Mall and the floors above it to RUH, and was there when Queen Elizabeth II officially re-opened the hospital in 1972.

Dagnone left RUH in 1992, recruited to University Hospital in London, Ontario. He calls that community “a larger version of Saskatoon….(full of) very friendly, committed people.”  When the three hospitals in London merged, Dagnone re-applied for his job, won it, then ran all three hospitals.

Dagnone came back to Saskatchewan to conduct the Patient First Review, releasing his final report in 2009 which called for changes to how patients experience the health system, how health services are delivered, and how the system is administered.

During his two days with Florizone, Dagnone said he spent a lot of time answering Dan’s questions.

“He’s got a real desire to improve how care is delivered,” Dagnone noted. “He’s been asking me to share my experiences with him, and I’m more than happy to do so.”

Dagnone says he sees Florizone as “an emerging leader who will certainly serve the people of this Region in an excellent way.”

Florizone, meanwhile, has hopes of bringing Dagnone’s style of leadership back to the organization.

“When Tony was in charge of RUH, he often spoke with employees and physicians to hear from them and understand their concerns,” Florizone said. “His approachable style, and his ability to connect with staff is something that I think we need to emulate.”

Florizone and Dagnone first connected long ago – when Florizone took his first healthcare course at the University of Saskatchewan. Florizone has often referred to Dagnone as one of his mentors.

“Dan was one of those curious individuals, always full of questions,” Dagnone recalled. “I was a small part of his mentoring. I really got to know him when I did the Patient First Review, and he was the Deputy Minister of Health. I’ve worked with 13 or 14 different deputy ministers in Saskatchewan and Ontario, and Dan is among the top two of that group. He’s got such a capacity and understanding of health care. And he knows how important it is to put the patient at the centre of everything.”