TORONTO — It’s not often in Jewish communal work that a long-time lay leader becomes a worker bee, but in Garry Foster’s case, that scenario suits him just fine.
After joining the Baycrest Foundation last September on an interim basis, Foster was recently named its president and chief executive officer, meaning he reports to work at the world-famous facility for seniors every day.
As Foster puts it, “it wasn’t as though I walked in and was never involved.” Indeed, he comes to the job after serving as the lay vice-chair of the Baycrest Foundation and as a former chair of Baycrest’s board of directors.
Along with those came a slew of other communal involvement: He chaired the board of governors at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies; served as president of Jewish Family & Child Service (now Jewish Family & Child), and was on the board at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
All of which, Foster said, stands him in good stead – both from the standpoint of understanding finances (he’s an accountant to boot) and the community’s workings and donor base.
Foster replaces Susan Sutton, an American fundraiser who lasted two years at Baycrest.
While not much about his new job title has surprised him, Foster, who describes himself as “a young 66,” still seems a bit off guard as he sits in his second floor office at Baycrest’s executive suites.
“If you asked me a year ago, [among] a thousand things I could be doing today, this probably wouldn’t have been on the list,” he told The CJN with a chuckle.
Foster heads the fundraising arm of Baycrest Health Sciences, helping secure money for the institution’s main strengths: research into cognition, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, stroke, and “aging brain health”; medical programs and services for seniors living in the community; and a public education component to support what Baycrest terms “healthy aging and health-care solutions” for a growing senior population.
He breaks his job down into three bite-sized areas: Finding philanthropic money for onsite care, education and research.
Baycrest’s overall annual budget is about $160 million, with the provincial government funding two-thirds of that. The world-renowned institution’s “value added” component, Foster noted, comes from charitable giving. That includes the facility’s many day and respite care programs, cultural and recreational activities, and provision of kosher food.
In 2013, the foundation raised $22 million in charitable donations, and the same is expected for 2014 (factoring in investment income, revenue will be roughly $30 million this year). Of that, about $17 million will be allotted to care, education and research. The difference goes to salaries and administration.
At the Apotex Centre, Baycrest’s long-term care facility, costs exceed the rate the government sets by $40 per resident per day, Foster pointed out.
“Here’s the challenge we face,” he explained. “As a community, we have an Apotex Centre that is full, with a long waiting list. We know the future is going to more [about] taking care of people in their homes. So while we have 472 beds in the nursing home, it’s not going to be expanded to a thousand people. We have to have better day care and better programs to take care of people in their homes. And all that has to be funded in many respects through philanthropy.”
Foster turns aside a suggestion that with that much fundraising, Baycrest is in tension with UJA.
“Tension is probably the wrong word,” he said. “Maybe ‘competition.’ Nothing would make me happier than finding a good project with UJA to help fund a piece of Baycrest.”
Fundraisers everywhere get used to hearing two things: Government cutbacks and donor fatigue. Foster said he hasn’t noticed too much of the latter. “The one thing that has amazed me is how deep the roots are of the donors at Baycrest.”
Governments, on the other hand, “are strange things. If the government was just a payer, that’s one thing. But they’re both payer and provider. They tell you how to provide services, even though it may not be in some cases the efficient way, so sometimes you have to negotiate the money with the provision of the services.”
But like all planners in his field, he’s aware of what looms on the horizon: Baby boomers forming a huge cohort that will challenge everything from elderly care to pensions and public health funding.
How is Baycrest preparing? Mostly with a view toward more home care.
“That’s huge,” Foster said. “To some extent, we probably have to develop a big part of [Baycrest’s 22-acre] campus to accommodate more people” – not necessarily in residential care but in more day programs.
“Day to day, Baycrest is in good shape, but when you take a look at what’s coming, we know we have to increase the funding base.”
Foster is especially proud of the work at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, which attempts to ease the impact of age-related illness and impairment. One project, the Virtual Brain, is the stuff of science fiction.
Working with colleagues on three continents, scientists at Baycrest are attempting to create a computer model of a fully functioning human brain that simulates how it functions under normal conditions, changes with aging and responds to damage from trauma or disease.
In the future, scientists will be able to study therapies on the computer model before testing them on humans.
Foster said current research on Alzheimer’s disease is promising.
“It’s clear that if you can delay Alzheimer’s by five years, you basically cut the incidence of the disease in half. If you delay it by 10 years, you almost eradicate it.”