An Occupational Therapist’s journey to becoming a leader in health care management and education

Mary Lattas, erg., OT, MSc, proud McGill alumnae from the Class of ’93, began her career as an occupational therapist at the Lindsay Rehabilitation Hospital where she worked for 16 years, first as an occupational therapist and later as Coordinator of Occupational Therapy. As her clinical expertise expanded, she took on roles with more leadership responsibilities while pursuing and completing a Master of Science in Organizational Development, at Université Laval. The program is designed to prepare clinicians or new managers for management roles in evolving dynamic healthcare environments.

Becoming a Director of Rehabilitation and Multidisciplinary Services

Lattas’s first managerial position was for the Rehabilitation Programs in Specialized Schools at the Philippe E. Layton School and Mackay Centre School. Next, she was appointed the Coordinator of Ambulatory Services at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), where she continued to lead as a manager of clinics in medicine, surgery and psychiatry, overseeing 22 clinics for four years under the Directorate of Professional Services.

Just before the 2015 Quebec Health Reform, a reform that created integrated health networks, she assumed the position of Chief of Occupational Therapy in addition to Coordinator of Ambulatory Service at the JGH. With her acquired experience in both program and service models, her passions for rehabilitation, innovation, building high-performance interprofessional teams, using data to guide decision-making and redesigning service programs to ensure quality person-centred care, she was positioned very well for her next roles as Associate Director of Multidisciplinary Services in 2016, Associate Director of Rehabilitation and Multidisciplinary Services in 2019, and finally her current role as Director of Rehabilitation and Multidisciplinary Services at the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

In her current position, Lattas leads 55 managers with over 1600 employees at more than 20 sites with a budget of over $141M. She oversees health professionals, spanning more than 15 disciplines, including all rehabilitation services at the JGH, three rehabilitation hospitals; Richardson Hospital, Catherine Booth Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Unité transitoire récupération fonctionnelle (UTRF) Glenmount, and three rehabilitation centres Lethbridge Layton Mackay Centre, Miriam Centre in addition to the rehabilitation services in 5 CLSCs and 6 CHSLDs. Also under her responsibilities is the support and supervision of the professional practice of physical and occupational therapists, social workers, and image technologists.

Lattas proudly demonstrates the C4 centre, at the JGH, (photo above) where the moving parts from many of the listed sites are monitored. The centre uses the latest technologies to produce predictive analytics on vulnerable patients who are at risk of needing alternate levels of care, to provide community dashboards that indicate client length of stay and anticipated discharges, and to facilitate transitions from acute care to the community. Since clinicians have access to these tools, they can effectively coordinate a better continuum of care for patients and caregivers.

“I feel like this is my dream job in terms of rehabilitation because I manage rehabilitation across the whole trajectory of care, from acute care all the way to long term. I feel fortunate to have an interdisciplinary management team combining the strengths of the hospital and community with a service and program model. These are all dedicated and compassionate health professionals who have, over the years, acquired skills, experiences, and relationships that help them to collaborate effectively both within the different clinical missions and with our clients, families, and partners within our health system to provide quality care.”

Drawing on her training in Occupational Therapy

Reflecting on her training to become an occupational therapist, Lattas explains that Occupational Therapy provides a foundation not only for clinical practice but also for assuming various roles in healthcare management. She describes the importance of truly understanding occupation and being able to identify what is meaningful to patients, caregivers, clinicians, managers, and partners. Equally important, she feels, is to understand how to engage different people, especially when creative solutions and advocacy are required to engage a group and offer the services that clients need.

Lattas emphasizes that occupational therapists use critical thinking skills to analyze, understand challenges, and adapt to the different dimensions of the issues. She feels the holistic approach of occupational therapists combined with their pursuit of evidence-based practices and strong analytical, data-driven nature are characteristics well suited to pursue leadership roles and contribute to innovative person-centered quality services, which are key to the future of healthcare.

Joining Academia

In August 2023, Lattas was appointed to the role of Assistant Dean of Health Professions Education, Faculty of Medicine, and Health Sciences, and Assistant Professor (Professional) at the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University. Here, she hopes to bridge academics, teaching, research, and clinical practice as she continues her quest for improved efficiency and better patient outcomes based on evidence-based practices. When asked what motivated her to take on yet another exciting role, Lattas explains, “I think we are at a pivotal point in our healthcare system where clinicians are doing their best in the hospitals and community. Bringing together the research, academic and clinical perspectives will reveal real opportunities to make strides in further innovating and transforming our models of care.” She feels that strengthening the collaboration with our academic mission is especially important for several reasons including, addressing the aging Quebec population with more diverse and vulnerable patients in the community, the increased population of children with neurodiversity issues, and supporting the need to incorporate technologies, virtual care and telerehabilitation, to list a few. These all contribute to strengthening clinical practice, building professional roles, and advocating for health professionals across different missions.