Dasent making significant impact at UHN
December 19, 2018
Her father owned an auto body shop and mom toiled for many years in a factory until a few days before her death.
No wonder it was easy for Darlene Dasent to value the virtues of hard work and determination.
The parents also encouraged her to set big goals and aim high which she did.
The University Health Network (UHN) vice-president and chief financial officer made this year’s Women’s Executive Network list of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
“The foundation of a family is really important,” said Dasent whose dad migrated from Nevis, a 36-square mile island in the Caribbean with a population of about 11,500. “I come from a background of hard work and the concept that there is no shame in hard work in whatever type of endeavor you are engaged in. So that freedom not to be pressured gave me the ability to find a path that I really, really enjoy.”
She hopes that the honour will show young girls that they can become leaders and hold their own in the corporate world.
“You have to take some awards and accolades in stride,” Dasent pointed out. “While I am honoured and humbled by the recognition, what stands out for me about this one is the ability it provides to potentially influence the next generation of young leaders. It lets them know that they can look and act their authentic self and still have the ability to hold very senior and powerful roles in the world of business.”
At UHN since 2004, Dasent was appointed to her current role in early 2017 after serving as deputy chief financial officer for seven years. She also supported the executive team and the board of trustees.
UHN is an integrated healthcare, research and education network of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals.
Affiliated to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, the four institutions serve as teaching hospitals for resident physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. UHN also operates The Michener Institute, which is an applied health sciences college launched six decades ago.
Dasent plays a critical role through aligning strategic and financial initiatives with patient and hospital priorities. As a key member of the senior leadership team, she provides strategic leadership and is a main business enabler for UHN to meet its organizational goals.
The hospital network has about $2.2 billion in annual revenues and expenditures and $2 billion in assets.
“Approximately 60 per cent of the money comes from the Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care and the other 40 from a variety of other areas,” she said. “What really intrigues me about the world of health care and the reason I have stayed at UHN over a decade is that I find that while we have the same business challenges that any industry would have, we cannot – for example – divest ourselves of a certain procedure because we don’t make money on it. We have to always figure out how to optimize our funding and how to be cost efficient so we can deliver the best care to our patients. It is an industry where I feel you are helping and giving back to society as a whole.”
Instrumental in developing financial governance models, Dasent is currently leading UHN’s finance transformation that will enable staff to use real-time data to support decision-making and operational needs.
“We are looking to see how we can transform the business of finance within health care,” Dasent noted. “We have nine pillars that we have just finished putting together. Some of the key ones really look at automation and our service delivery models and we are saying to ourselves that within an industry like health care where resources are limited, when we do have resources, they should be going towards frontline care. We are also looking at how can an area like finance, that is a back office or support function, really streamline its operation. So we are really taking a look at how we can digitally enable the work of finance and streamline some of the work we are doing on the back end.”
Dasent joined UHN the same year that the then provincial Liberal government announced a significant change in the health care system. Regional boards – Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) – were rolled out in 2007 throughout Ontario to deliver major health services.
“I didn’t have a background in health care,” she said. “My strength was in business and I came on board to really work on the back end to understand what the business of finance within a hospital is and really do some work on how our funding models and cash flow input impact the hospital operations and how to optimize our funding.”
During her distinguished tenure at UHN, Dasent has held progressively senior leadership roles providing strategic financial advice to support the hospital network operations.
In her current role, she oversees finance, including treasury & cash management, capital, planning & budgeting, accounting & financial operations, audit & compliance, Ministry and activity reporting, case costing, research financial services, procurement and supply chain management.
“For me, it is the passion for understanding when we make a decision in the world of business, there is often a client or staff impact,” she noted. “There is also a business and financial impact. What I find exhilarating is been part of that multi-disciplinary team and really understanding what’s the business impact of our decisions. If we need to be here, we need a strong balance sheet that its finances are foundational to get any business where it wants to go. Being able to put together a foundation for a business to allow it to achieve its vision is what intrigues me. That is entwined with the numbers, but the numbers alone are not helpful unless you understand the business.”
Raised in Toronto, Dasent finished high school at Northern Secondary, graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Commerce and Carleton University with a psychology degree and completed the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) certification program before joining Ernst & Young and then PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Auditing at those two firms really gave me a foundation to be able to see businesses from the inside out and understand what makes them tick,” she said.
That experience along with supportive colleagues helped to make Dasent’s transition to UHN smooth.
She singled out former executive vice-president and chief financial officer Justine Jackson who retired two years ago after being with UHN for 32 years.
“Justine is a mom of four and she was a large influence in allowing me to see what you can do even though you have a family at home,” said Dasent.