When Rob Saavedra (BA ’15, MPS ’17) became a capacity analyst for Ontario Health, he knew there would be difficult challenges to solve. An aging population, hospitals nearing capacity and stretched funding already pose limitations on how the government can provide care to Ontarians. With COVID-19 spreading in Canada, Rob faces a new set of issues as he considers the resources and facilities available to patients.

A passionate alumnus, Rob took some time to give the Office of Advancement an inside look at the health-care system during COVID-19 and discussed how his education in the arts prepared him for his career in public service.

Rob SaavedraYou’re a capacity analyst for Ontario Health. What does that entail?

My role specifically looks at dialysis services. I look at all of the hospitals and health-care facilities that offer dialysis and assess how much capacity they have to serve the patient population. I also use projected patient volumes to understand infrastructure and equipment needs. My role helps determine funding for new facilities, repairs and equipment.

Our health care system is in the middle of a crisis. How is COVID-19 changing your job?

We know that capacity in hospitals is low. Hospitals don’t have a lot of available space, especially in the Greater Toronto Area. It’s a huge issue – a lot of those hospitals already work at near-capacity. So, if we see an influx of new patients due to COVID-19, are our hospitals going to be able to handle the people coming in? It’s concerning, and it will directly impact all the care that hospitals provide.

For example, some hospitals have had to ramp down on elective surgeries, and transplants would fall into that category. We have patients who were supposed to receive a kidney transplant, and are now outside of the dialysis care system. Now that they can’t get their transplant, these patients will come back into the hospital for dialysis and we have to account for this increase in patients. My team is also trying to determine the number of COVID-19 patients who will end up in the intensive care unit and develop an acute kidney injury; they’ll also require dialysis. Hospitals are already dealing with capacity issues, and the pandemic puts significantly more pressure on the system.

How do you deal with that?

We take inventory of all the facilities, using the most recent patient data we have. That helps us understand which facilities have available capacity and machines for dialysis. We also look at projections to see which facilities would be affected the most if we see transplant patients coming back into facilities.

If we can understand which facilities have back-up machines, which facilities have space, and which facilities are probably going to be near-capacity or over-capacity, we can make a plan to provide resources where they are needed.

Rob's workstation to project patient volumes

Do you think the skills you have from your Arts degree give you an advantage during the pandemic?

Yes, I think that’s a core part of my job right now.

It’s more than understanding which hospitals have space. You can’t just move a patient to a new facility because the space is available. Some patients need to be closer to home, they want to be with family or they have a nurse or doctor who they trust at their current facility. The human side of this problem is very important. And as COVID-19 progresses, understanding peoples’ anxieties will become more important. We have that on our radar too.

We need to empathize with patients, encourage them to go to the optimal facilities or find alternative solutions that accommodate their needs and safety. It’s about making sure that people can get the best care in our current situation.

I always felt that the disciplines you can study in an arts degree – like political science, psychology, sociology – require you to understand and empathize with people. And that’s a critical part of providing public services.


What did you study at Waterloo and why?

In my undergraduate degree, I majored in political science. Then I did a master’s degree in public service. I’ve always been interested in politics and how the government provides services. I’m passionate about how we can provide services that don’t necessarily make money, but do some public good. These are the things that make life better for all Canadians.

Has your background in the arts helped in your career?

Definitely. I always felt that the disciplines you can study in an arts degree – like political science, psychology, sociology – require you to understand and empathize with people. And that’s a critical part of providing public services. You need to understand the numbers or the science behind decisions, but also how people’s lives will be affected by governmental decisions.