Charitable Choices: Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCHF)

For today’s Charitable Choices we spoke with Sara Byrnell, Vice President, Philanthropy, of Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

Sara Byrnell
Sara Byrnell – Vice President of WCHF

Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.

Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCHF) is dedicated to supporting Women’s College Hospital as it revolutionizes healthcare for women. Working together with community members, patients, family members, staff, physicians and volunteers, WCHF raises, manages and invests funds to support the hospital’s current and future priority needs.

Women’s College Hospital (WCH) is a world leader in the health of women and a champion of health equity for all. Established over 135 years ago by Dr. Emily Stowe as the first place in Canada where women could practice and study medicine, WCH continues to be Canada’s only fully independent hospital focused on advancing women’s health and research. The hospital also has a mandate to deliver innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs.

What problem does it aim to solve?

WCH continues to build on its 100+ year history as a trailblazer in identifying and addressing women’s health gaps and delivering pioneering firsts for women, the vulnerable and the underserved. One of the ways in which it achieves this is by addressing the most pressing health system challenges facing Canadians today and proactively confronting the gender and social inequities that threaten people’s health.

Virtual care, through Women’s Virtual, has proved itself to be critically important during the pandemic. At Women’s College Hospital, the planning and infrastructure for virtual care had been in place since 2018. When the pandemic hit, the hospital was able to move more than 75% of its clinics – including mental health and cardiac rehab – to virtual within three weeks.

Ultimately, the goal of Women’s Virtual is to create a healthcare system in which the majority of a person’s care can be delivered virtually – when and where people need it most. This is of critical importance in breaking down barriers to healthcare for vulnerable, isolated and underserved populations, including Indigenous communities, long-term care residents, homeless populations, newcomers, refugees and more.

When did you start/join it?

I joined the team at Women’s nine months ago, in April 2020.

What made you want to get involved?

Women’s focus on innovation, challenging the norms of healthcare and advancing health equity for all really attracted me to the cause. To be a part of solutions that will not only make women healthier, but support those who are most underserved is a true honour. Initiatives like Women’s Virtual demonstrate the hospital’s commitment to excellence and working to advance this new way of care is so important for the future of our health in Toronto and across Ontario.

What was the situation like when you started?

I joined the Foundation right at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. I have yet to meet the whole team in person! But even through virtual meetings, the energy and commitment to our Hospital’s mission comes through and our work to raise funds to help WCH deliver on its mission is understood to be more critical than ever. A big focus for us, in light of the needs exacerbated by the pandemic, is accelerating our roll out of Women’s Virtual. The recent $1 million grant made by the TD Ready Challenge for this critical program is a wonderful catalyst to propel this work. The annual TD Ready Challenge is a signature initiative of the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank’s corporate citizenship platform. This year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 TD Ready Challenge encouraged applicants from across TD’s North American footprint to support innovative solutions that will help create accelerated, sustained and equitable recovery in the face of COVID-19, specifically for communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We were thrilled and so grateful to learn WCHF was one of the 15 North American recipients of this year’s Challenge.

What more needs to be done?

There is still so much that needs to be done in terms of closing health gaps for women and underserved populations. Women’s Virtual will help greatly by removing barriers to care and actually creating a comprehensive strategy that can be scaled out as a model right across the province. We also have many other programs, such as trauma-informed care; women’s cardiovascular; cancer care; mental health that continue to need funding, especially in research with a sex and gender lens, to continue to close these gaps. For instance, did you know that 89% of Canadians don’t know that women are more likely than men to experience an adverse reaction to prescription medications and that only 20% of Canadians know that heart disease kills more women than men each year? Women only started to be included in clinical trials in Canada in the 1990s, so there’s lots of catching up to do.

How can our readers help?

Please consider donating at or learning more about what we do by visiting our website.

Do you have any events coming up?
Women for Women’s, our signature gala luncheon featuring TedTalk-style Doc Talks, takes place March 8 on International Women’s Day. Also, the Toronto Run for Women presented by the Shoppers Drug Mart LOVE.YOU program, which raises funds for our women’s mental health program take place July 4-11 this year so that is also a wonderful way to support WCH.

Where can we follow you?

Twitter: @wchf
Facebook: @wchfdn


What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Women’s College is obviously a passion of mine! But I also applaud all of the grassroots organizations across the GTA helping on the front lines, whether it be food banks, shelters, or those delivering front line mental health services. Supporting kids through the pandemic is also important to me, in particular the work of Camp Oki, a camp for kids with heart conditions who have continued to offer virtual camps for cardiac patients over the last year. Our charitable sector in Toronto is very strong and I am proud to stand alongside my colleagues in continuing to serve our great community through the pandemic and beyond.