Farah Ismail embraces synergies between healthcare, nursing and the law at SE Health

Preparing for the emergence of AI in the healthcare space is a priority for Ismail in 2024
Farah Ismail embraces synergies between healthcare, nursing and the law at SE Health

After starting her career as a nurse, Farah Ismail decided to apply to law school so she could combine her passions for healthcare and access to justice. Maintaining her status as a nurse and a lawyer has been very important to Ismail throughout her career.

“There aren’t many nurse lawyers in Canada, and those that do enter the profession of law usually resign their membership as a nurse, but I have really strived to maintain both and continue to practice in both capacities,” says Ismail. “I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve continued to demonstrate the wonderful synergies between healthcare, nursing and the law, and I’ve had an impact in the positions that I’ve held.”

Ismail spent the early part of her legal education at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, where she gained the foundational training, legal knowledge, and skills to propel her to the next stage of her career.

When the opportunity arose to build a legal department at the College of Nurses of Ontario, the role seemed like a natural fit for Ismail. After 10 years in various leadership roles, she decided to start her own consulting practice, through which she met SE Health – a  Toronto-based not-for-profit healthcare provider that offers home, community, long-term, acute and primary care services nationally. After helping the organization through a restructuring as her client, Ismail was invited to come on board. She has worn many different hats over the past four years at SE Health, most recently earning the title of senior vice-president, chief legal, privacy and compliance officer.

“It has been a privilege to get to know the organization from the inside because it’s given me a great perspective,” says Ismail. “With the introduction of our CEO that happened about 18 months ago, my role was further refined.” This included building a new legal function for SE Health, with guidance from long-term partner Fasken.

“For an organization that has never before had lawyers working in-house, this was a big change,” says Ismail. “There are over 8500 employees that work for the organization so we really strive to be accessible to them, and to provide clear, correct and timely advice.” Ismail’s small department navigates legal, privacy and compliance matters for the business. Though they now operate as an independent legal department, Ismail and her team still turn to Fasken as their firm of choice to help with more complex matters. Ismail is also focused on demonstrating fiscal responsibility for the legal spend of her department.

Top of mind for Ismail this year is privacy and cybersecurity, as well as the introduction of artificial intelligence in the healthcare space.

“AI is coming quickly so there needs to be a lot of controls and balance in place,” she says. “When working in a healthcare organization, I think the enhancements with technology will give patients more access and have them be responsible for their own care – which in many ways is an amazing thing, but with that, we open the door to greater scrutiny and potential litigation.”

Privacy continues to be a significant focus in the healthcare industry, so in her role as chief privacy officer, Ismail has been further developing the expertise of her team and managing privacy across several business lines. She is currently working with an external consultant to review existing policies and procedures beyond those in Ontario to ensure all legislated obligations are being met.

Ismail is also carefully monitoring changes in the balance between public and private healthcare accessibility, given the current shortage of physicians across the country.

In 2024 Ismail plans to continue socializing the in-house legal model across the organization, and refining processes and procedures. She also hopes to add any additional resources that may be needed.

Continuing to integrate her nursing expertise into her role as chief legal, privacy and compliance officer is a key priority for Ismail. The occupational health & safety and wellness pillar also now reports to Ismail’s department, providing further opportunities for her to use her nursing leadership skills and experience.

“I’m leading our patient engagement work and looking to establish an office of the patient experience which will provide me with additional opportunities to remain really connected to the populations that we serve,” says Ismail.