Barbara and Mark Cullen, with their daughter Lesley Jackson, pictured at St. Paul’s Microbiology Laboratory, beside the blood culture analyzer (BACT/ALERT® VIRTUO™) that they funded. The instrument automates blood cultures and allows for the rapid detection of pathogens (e.g., bacteria) in patients with sepsis.

Well Equipped to Care

Promise Magazine: Fall 2017

By Melissa Edwards | Photography by Jeff Topham

For three decades, the Cullen family has been quietly helping improve almost every aspect of the patient and resident experience across Providence Health Care sites

At first glance, there seems little in common between a serene garden for seniors at St. Vincent’s: Brock Fahrni residence, a fibre-optic salivary endoscope at Holy Family Hospital, or a blood gas analyzer in the St. Paul’s pathology lab. But these gifts, along with many others donated by the Cullen family over their 30-year relationship with St. Paul’s and former Tapestry foundations, do share a fundamental connection: they have all made a profound impact on the real, day-to-day experience of patients and residents across every Providence Health Care (PHC) site.

“We’ve become, in a small way, partners with St. Paul’s,” says Mark Cullen, whose long friendship with the organization began in 1988, when the late Terry Heenan, then a client of Mark’s at RBC Dominion Securities and chair of the hospital’s board, recommended he join the board too. Mark’s wife, Barbara, soon began volunteering as well, helping to develop a new patient relations program.

Today the couple, along with their daughter, Lesley, meet regularly with hospital and foundation staff to uncover areas of greatest need. (Their son, John, lives in Toronto but takes part when he can.) “It’s something we look forward to,” says Barbara. “It’s a very collaborative process.” While the Cullens have funded major research and infrastructure projects, their focus is on donating equipment, from high-tech to low, that immediately improves the comfort and treatment of patients and residents. For example, a project to renovate the tub facilities in all of PHC’s residential care sites may not have been exciting, says Mark, but it made a real impact on the lives of resident seniors.

“When you see something that can really help somebody – even a blanket warmer – it may be small, but it makes a big difference,” says Barbara. Close to her own heart is “the lab,” officially called the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine department. “I think of it as the foundation of the hospital,” she says. “With better equipment they can have accurate diagnoses quickly, for doctors to determine the right treatment for their patients. This leads to better patient care, which is our overall objective.”

“The Cullens have touched all of our lives and supported every corner of our lab,” says Janice Bittante, manager of laboratory operations for St. Paul’s. The 2014 gift of an innovative mass spectrometer, for example, reduced the time it takes to identify the bacteria in patients with infections from up to 48 hours to less than five minutes. The recent donation of a SealSafe system improved the way the pathology team processes tissue samples, and new “Cellavision” digital microscope software has propelled the lab’s ability to quickly diagnose conditions like leukemia or anemia.

“Our team feels very connected with the Cullen family,” adds Dr. Martin Trotter, Department Head of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at PHC. “They’ve helped improve our workflow, our accuracy and efficiency, and our ability to make diagnoses faster for patients. We take pride in that, and we’re so thankful to the Cullens for helping make that happen.”

To date, the Cullens have donated more than 200 pieces of equipment, along with significant funding for other projects. Currently, and alongside his role as a founding member of St. Paul’s Governors Council, Mark continues to volunteer as a member of the PHC Residential and Community Care Services Society, which helps oversee the upcoming development of advanced new sites for seniors and patients with dementia at the St. Vincent’s location. “The relationship we have with the team at Providence has developed over so long, and it just keeps getting better,” says Mark. “We have so much respect for what they do.”

“Once you start giving, it’s such a joyful thing that you want to keep doing more,” says Barbara. “It’s all about the care of patients and residents, and the more people you can help, the better you feel.”