Slaight Family's Strategic $50 Million Gift To Hospitals: Where Will It Go?

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They’ve been called “visionary philanthropists.” After spending time at five Toronto hospitals and observing their needs, the Slaight family will donate $50 million to be split equally between Toronto General and Western Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital, the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and Mount Sinai Hospital.

In 2007, the Slaights sold their business empire, Standard Broadcasting, to Astral Media for over $1 billion.

The $50 million gift, to be dispersed by the Slaight Family Foundation over the next 10 years, will support leading edge heath care techniques, state of the art facilities and major advancements in research and innovation.

(Editor’s Note: The Slaight Family Foundation is the main supporter of Samaritanmag.com)

The donation was announced by radio talk show host and former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory with the presidents of all five hospitals in attendance. “It will be chronicled elsewhere as a magical gift, which it is, and it also represents — and I think it’s important to note this — a new approach to philanthropy,” said Tory. “Working alongside the hospitals, the Slaight Family Foundation did for a year to get the evidence and get the facts upon which to make decisions about what they would wish to see supported with this most generous donation.”

Gary Slaight, there with his wife, Donna, and daughter Ali, said, “This announcement allows us to carry on the tradition of giving back to the community, as exemplified by my parents Ada and Allan, as well as Emmanuelle Gattuso Slaight. On behalf of my wife Donna, our daughters Ali and Chrissy, and our entire family, we feel profoundly grateful to be in a position to be able to provide these hospitals gifts which we hope will benefit Torontonians for many years to come.

“The decision to fund these specific projects was not made lightly. We worked with each hospital for the better part of a year to select initiatives that would make a significant improvement in healthcare for everyone, from the very young to the very old. Our thanks to the five hospital and foundation CEOs for your support, patience, and determination throughout this process. We are lucky to have such strong advocates at the helm of our hospitals.

“The people who deserve our appreciation and thanks the most though are the doctors, researchers, and technicians who work tirelessly for all of us and are always there when we need them. We sincerely hope these gifts will encourage other individuals to support healthcare in their own communities right across Canada.”

The Slaight Family Foundation Gifts, in detail:

Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation: 
Slaight Family Centre for Advanced MRI

Support for a Canadian first – a Siemens 7 Tesla Whole Body MRI machine, which provides highly sophisticated images at ultra-high resolution to improve early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases such as dementia, arthritis, brain and spinal cord injuries.

Says Dr. Bob Bell, president and CEO of University Health Network (UHN): “This Centre will become home to Canada’s first 7 Tesla Whole Body MRI, the world’s most powerful high-resolution MRI machine. This gift will substantially advance our ability to investigate diseases of the brain, spinal cord and joints, major concerns for our aging population. Over 400 neuroscience and arthritis researchers at Toronto Western will use this research platform to enhance our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis, stroke, and concussion.

“This 7T MRI will provide ultra high-resolution images at the sub millimeter level, and will advance our knowledge about tissue structure and function. This imaging will allow better appreciation of the very early changes caused by disease, transforming the way that we both diagnose and treat illnesses that currently have no cure. This technology will allow our researchers to see an exquisite level of detail, and when dealing with the brain in particular, microns obviously matter.

“The Slaight Family Centre for advanced MRI will enhance neuroscience research across Toronto. We have already signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with CAMH providing access to this technology, and we expect that the availability of this equipment will really help all of us to recruit and retain the best and brightest in this rapidly evolving field.”

St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation: 
Slaight Family Emergency Department

The new emergency department will double in size with a new layout dividing care based on severity, creating urgent and non-urgent sections thus improving patient flow, reducing wait times as well as providing comfort and privacy during treatment. Additional features include an imaging suite with a CT scanner, a separate eight-bed mental health unit, enlargement of the two existing trauma rooms while adding a third trauma room to increase capacity.

Says Dr. Bob Howard, president and CEO of St Michael’s Hospital: “This emergency department expansion is part of a much larger project to transform St Michael’s physical plan. It includes the construction of a 17-story patient care tower and renovations to much of the rest of the hospital. But back to our emerge. The emerge was built to accommodate about 45000 annual visits and last year it was 71, 500 and growing.

“We have a tremendously diverse patient population and our emerge needs to serve complex and sophisticated needs of the population. It has to be able to handle a very broad spectrum of healthcare issues, such as mental health, inner city issues, and trauma. The expanded emerge will include more patient treatment areas and diagnostic imaging inside the emerge such as a CT scanner, ultrasound, and the usual emergency x-ray equipment.

“One of the most notable changes will be the mental health area. We need a quiet, soothing, and secure area physically separated from the rest of the emergency department for these difficult patients. It will be staffed 24/7 by dedicated, specially trained crisis workers and healthcare providers. These renovations will allow us to accommodate our growing number of patients, reduce wait times, and continue to fulfill our mandate as a regional trauma centre, and also provide faster, more efficient care in a better designed and more comfortable environment.

“So this is tremendously exciting for St. Michael’s, and we are at the heart of a very difficult to serve area of the city, at the same time serving Bay Street. So our needs are complex. This initiative will transform what we do.”

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre: 
The Slaight Centre for Image-Guided Brain Therapy & Repair

Support for a PET-MRI imaging system that will allow for scalpel-less surgery to treat brain diseases such as dementia, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Invented by experts at Sunnybrook, the only place in the world doing this research, the PET-MRI will be combined with ultra sound technologies to treat diseases previously thought untreatable. This treatment will destroy diseased tissues and permit safe delivery of drugs through the blood brain barrier with extreme precision.

Says Dr. Barry McLellan, CEO of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre: “Just as the name suggests, the Centre will pioneer revolutionary non-invasive treatments for diseases of the brain and the mind. The Slaight Centre will provide novel solutions to some of the biggest threats to the health of Canadians: stroke and dementia. At the heart of the Centre will be a cutting edge PET MRI scanner, which is a fully integrated molecular imaging system combining positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. The system achieves the gold standard of molecular imaging, fully integrating simultaneous PET and MRI to enable the most complete three-dimensional picture of the brain as possible.

“Sunnybrook’s experts will modify the scanner so as to integrate our very own transcranial focus ultrasound device. With these technologies combined, Sunnybrook will conduct the first ever human clinical trials of focused ultrasound for drug delivery into the brain to treat dementia, stroke, and brain tumors. Our scientists have already led innovative pre-clinical research on image-guided focused ultrasound for the brain, which temporarily opens the blood-brain barrier to allow drugs and other potential therapeutics like stem cells to get through.

“The PET MRI scanner will enable us to translate these results to patients. We hope and expect this research will lead to the day where the steady advancement of dementia is halted, when stroke is stopped in its tracks, and when damaged brain tissue is regenerated, restoring the brain to a more functioning state.”

CAMH Foundation: The Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition

This will be Canada’s first centre dedicated to understanding and treating youth experiencing severe mental illness and addictions, bringing together research, support, education and practical tools for youth, their families and their service providers. Focused on developing leading-edge cognitive and brain stimulation treatments to prevent permanent brain changes, the centre will help youth improve social and intellectual function and maintain long-term recovery.

Says Dr. Katherine Zahn, president and CEO of CAMH: “Today in Canada, there are 1 million children in emotional trauma. Laura’s one of them. 18 years old, she could be my daughter. She could be your niece. She could be your neighbour’s baby sister. In her first weeks at university she’s homesick. Then she becomes paralyzed by anxiety, and finally she spirals into a psychotic state that’s diagnosed as schizophrenia. Laura will drop out of school, and she’ll lose all of her friends. She’ll be unemployed. She’ll be a street kid. And she’ll die young.

“Today, thanks to Donna and Gary Slaight and the Slaight family, there’s a better ending to this story. The Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition at CAMH will support young people just as their life is unfolding, during university,  at the start of a new job, at the beginning of an important relationship — the very time when serious mental illness strikes.

“The Slaight Centre will immediately open the door to care for Laura and many other kids at risk. And scientists at the Centre will find answers to questions like what made Laura’s young brain so vulnerable to mental illness? How will we use technology to repair the brain damage caused by her psychosis? What treatments and supports will she need to save her life? Donna and Gary, this gift is absolutely revolutionary. Today life just got better for those one million kids.”

Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation: 
Advancing Maternal Care — Improving Quality, Access and Health Equity for Women in Canada and internationally

Teach maternity care education to family medicine physicians through the extension of the Ada Slaight and Slaight Family Directorship in Family Medicine Maternity Care; establish The Slaight Family Maternal Equity Fund to provide prenatal care and perinatal mental health outreach services to marginalized and vulnerable women in Canada and Ethiopia and build The Slaight Family Labour & Delivery Unit.

Says Joseph Mapa, president and CEO of Mount Sinai Hospital: “Your gift with transform and broaden the scope of maternity care we offer through a new state of the art labour and delivery unit — The Slaight Family Labour & Delivery Unit — as well as innovative physician education programs and out-treatment services that will provide more support for marginalized and vulnerable women in both local and international markets.

“This is a poignant and significant gift for Mount Sinai Hospital given the fact that we began as a maternity hospital over 90 years ago. Today the Slaight family has enabled us to further our expertise within one of our flagship programs. Through your generous gift you have also reinforced our collective responsibility to the community, and the value of partnerships between providers, the government, and donors.”

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