Ottawa Hospital CEO Jack Kitts named 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

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Outgoing Ottawa Hospital CEO Jack Kitts. File photo

Dr. Jack Kitts once described the ideal CEO as someone who is “modest but driven to succeed.”

Just about anyone who’s worked with the head of the Ottawa Hospital would agree he more than fills that prescription. 

The 64-year-old, who announced earlier this year he is retiring next June after more than 18 years as president and CEO of the region’s largest medical facility, guided the local health-care system through one of its biggest transformations ever following the amalgamation of the Civic, General and Riverside hospitals in 1998.

More recently, Kitts helped spearhead the multibillion-dollar plan to build a new Civic campus on the northeast corner of the Central Experimental Farm on Carling Avenue near Preston Street. The full proposal for the new facility is expected to be unveiled within the next couple of years, with the relocated Civic expected to be ready for patients in seven to eight years.

For all his contributions to health care in a career spanning nearly 40 years as a doctor and administrator, Kitts has been named the recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade. He joins a distinguished list of previous honourees that includes Minto Group executive chair Roger Greenberg, former mayor Jim Durrell and the late Wes Nicol, founder of Tartan Homes.  

“It’s incredibly humbling, and I can’t help but think it took an army to help me get there ​– not the least of which is living in a very caring and generous community when it comes to health care,” Kitts said Tuesday morning after his latest honour was announced during the Mayor’s Breakfast at City Hall.

“I’m really proud of the people that work at the Ottawa hospital, the community that supports it. We have a world-class hospital in Ottawa today, and in the next 10 years, we will have a new, state-of-the-art hospital that’ll guarantee world-class care for decades to come for the citizens of Ottawa.”

Kitts, who was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2018, has been lauded throughout the local health-care community for his outstanding leadership. In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Jim Watson said Kitts has left "an incredible and positive mark on our entire city and province." 

But his remarkable ascent from military doctor to CEO of one of the country’s foremost research and teaching hospitals was hardly a foregone conclusion.

An 'honourable' career

Growing up the second-oldest of nine siblings two hours west of Ottawa in Barry’s Bay, Kitts originally figured a job at the local liquor store would be an “honourable career path,” as he once said during a Q&A with a uOttawa interviewer. Then a kindly guidance counsellor suggested he might consider going to university instead, advice that completely changed the direction of his life.

After earning his medical degree from the University of Ottawa in 1980, Kitts embarked on a three-year tour of duty as a medical officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Following a research fellowship at the University of California in San Francisco, he joined the Civic Hospital’s staff in 1988 as an anesthesiologist, later becoming the department’s research director before helping launch the Civic’s Preoperative Assessment Clinic in 1992. 

Three years later, he was appointed the hospital’s chief of anesthesia. In 1998, Kitts was promoted to vice-president of medical affairs, helping to lead the medical staff through the complex merger process that created the Ottawa Hospital.

After finishing his master’s degree in business administration in 2001, Kitts moved into the CEO suite the following year. Today, he manages a staff of more than 12,000 employees at an organization with an annual budget of nearly $1.4 billion.

Kitts said his mission as CEO has always been the same: to try to help provide patients with the best care they can possibly receive.

“If the merger wasn’t working well or wasn’t jelling, I would be worried about the quality of health care that we were receiving,” said the father of three, who also has three grandchildren and lives in Ottawa with his wife Lian. 

“So it was a challenge that I embraced very willingly because I didn’t want to live in a town that didn’t have the very best of health care ​– nor should you live in the nation’s capital and not expect the best of health care.”

Kitts will be honoured along with CEO of the Year Dan Goldberg, the soon-to-be-named CFO of the Year and dozens of the region’s top entrepreneurs and companies at the Best Ottawa Business Awards on Friday, Nov. 22 at the Westin Ottawa. More information on the BOBs is available here.