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Farewell Margaret Bennett

CEO Margaret Bennett moves on after a decade of achievement

Northeast Health Wangaratta’s (NHW) chief executive officer Margaret Bennett has departed after a decade at the helm to take up the position of chief executive for Southern NSW Health from March 2. Southern NSW Health encompasses a very large region and includes all the hospitals from Goulburn in the north of the region, down the South Coast to the Victorian border and inland to Cooma.

Margaret stands next to her motto, clearly enscrubbed on the memorial wall celebrating 140 years, “From a proud past and with firm foundations, Northeast Health Wangaratta faces the future with passion, energy, vision and optimism.”
“From a proud past and with firm foundations, Northeast Health Wangaratta faces the future with passion, energy, vision and optimism.” Margaret Bennett’s Motto that has become part of NHW.

It’s been an emotional few weeks for Margaret Bennett as she prepared to leave the Wangaratta community to take up a senior position with Southern NSW Health.

After 10 years as Chief Executive Officer of Northeast Health Wangaratta, Margaret oversaw NHW during a dramatic growth period and played a key role with fellow board members and staff to lobby and secure millions of dollars for a major development program which continues today.

She bid an emotional farewell to her NHW workmates and the wider community. “Saying goodbye to community groups and staff was a very hard thing to do,” Margaret said. “It’s so very difficult to leave this wonderful community and this fabulous health service that I love so dearly. I feel incredibly privileged to have been the CEO of Northeast Health for a decade. I am very honoured to be taking up this new appointment, but I am very conscious that so many of my new communities in southern NSW have been desperately impacted by bushfires… and it will be a long road to recovery, with health care central to that journey.”

Reflecting on her years at NHW, Margaret considered particular highlights over a period of significant growth, change and service expansion. She considers NHW to be very well placed for the next period of its evolution, with the much-awaited redevelopment commencing soon and a new Strategic Plan for 2020–2025 about to be released.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the people – the community of 90,000 we are privileged to serve and the wonderful team of 1500 staff, 60 plus Visiting Medical Specialists and our 350 fabulous volunteers, who are all so committed to the provision of excellent care,” Margaret said.

“I particularly value the absolute dedication of our staff to NHW’s Care and Kindness Charter which is ‘our promise’ to our patients.  All our staff understand that bringing alive our commitment to the Care and Kindness promise at every turn is absolutely non-negotiable in the provision of great care.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked for three such outstanding board chairs over the last 10 years; Dr Chris Cunningham, Brendan Schutt and Jonathan Green.  I am very grateful to them all for their dedication and commitment to the good governance of NHW for the benefit of North East Victorian communities.   I have greatly valued the strong connection with my executive team, past and present, and the bond with the broader leadership team and indeed all staff.   There are so many shining stars at NHW… amazing staff who go ‘above and beyond’ every single day. My request of them is that they continue to shine brightly and, in turn, clear the way for others to shine’.  I have loved time spent with our wonderful volunteers, who are the heart and soul of NHW. To have 350 amazing people giving their time and support so generously, brings immeasurable benefit to NHW and our community. I can’t thank them enough.”

Margaret said she could not be more delighted or more grateful to be passing the baton to Tim Griffiths as interim CEO, until a permanent CEO is appointed. “Tim is an extremely capable, values-driven health leader who absolutely matches my passion for NHW,” she said. “We have worked in close partnership for more than five years, and share a commitment to make a real difference at NHW on our watch.”

Board chair, Jonathan Green in his speech at Margaret’s farewell, summed up the feeling of not only the NHW family but many in the wider community. “You leave NHW with the board’s and the community’s enduring gratitude, not only for your outstanding service to NHW, but your service to the community of Wangaratta and surrounds, and to the wider health system of Victoria,” he said. “Anyone would be hard-pressed to find another individual who has given as much and as well as yourself.”

large group of staff gathered in group with Margaret at the forefront.
Photo by Marc Bongers

Some of Margaret’s Highlights

The successful growth of the workforce with NHW’s well established strong focus on ‘growing our own’ supported by a range of university and TAFE partnerships along with excellent partnerships with various secondary schools to support school-based programs. “Just in the last few weeks alone, we have welcomed a group of new school-based trainees, 14 new medical students, 20 new junior doctors joining an expanded team of 62, and a wonderful group of newly graduated nurses and allied health professionals.”

A progressive commitment to innovation which has seen the establishment of new technologies to support patient care including the development of the first Robotics Rehabilitation Centre in regional Australia, and the establishment of a Digital ECG service to support patient care in small rural health services. “We could not have achieved the adoption of innovative new services and equipment without the extraordinary community fundraising support we have received, and I know that support and commitment will continue in the future.”

Development of new services to support patient care including establishing an MRI service at NHW; commencing a seven day a week ‘Hospital in The Home’ service (now looking after babies all the way through to the elderly) and successfully recruiting a range of wonderful new specialists such as urology, geriatric medicine and rehabilitation medicine. “A major focus has been the development of strategies and services to support the development of Aged Friendly health services and communities, across northeast Victoria.”

Improvements in infrastructure has seen some significant developments over the decade including the building of a new operating theatre and a same day unit, as well as a seven chair dental clinic, establishing a new Clark Street outpatients area as well as constructing a transitional care unit at Illoura, and a four-bed observation ward in the Emergency Department, and upgrading the Community Care Centre. Millions of dollars has been spent improving infrastructure including the new patient lift and a range of often unseen infrastructure improvements, like electrical switchboards and chillers, which are central to keeping the place running effectively.
“Every successful funding allocation is a celebration!”

Growing strong and effective partnerships, including with universities, district hospitals, Wangaratta Private Hospital, Gateway Health, Albury Wodonga Health, Rural City of Wangaratta, Ambulance Vic, Vic Police, and the Department of Health and Human Services. “The ongoing strengthening of effective partnerships is central to good health service delivery…and I could not be more grateful to all our partners for their support of NHW.”

Growth of a positive, friendly workplace culture where diversity is celebrated. “Driving a positive, energised and safe workplace culture is a central responsibility for a CEO, and I am very proud of the level of staff engagement and satisfaction at NHW. The successful adoption of the Studer Hardwiring Excellence framework over the last nine years has been central to strengthening leadership, accountability and a shared understanding of ‘what right looks like’.

“Progressing Rainbow Tick accreditation is a recent example of a range of strategies in place to support and celebrate diversity, both in our community and in our health service.”

Consistently strong patient satisfaction and excellent patient outcomes. “Our mission is to provide services to improve the quality of life of people in northeast Victoria and one of the ways of monitoring our success is by patient feedback. I am very proud of our positive patient feedback…and also staff teams’ focus on continually learning and reflecting on feedback where improvement is needed.”

Strengthening of our education and research capacity and capability. “The last decade has seen a significant development in education and research. The progress now enables us to consider establishing expanded clinical trials capability at NHW, to support access to clinical trials for rural patients.”

Strong community and consumer engagement strategies. “There’s a continuous focus on the further development of community and consumer engagement throughout all service areas. We now have Illoura residents involved in staff selection, the Community Advisory Committee has been strengthened and has become a board sub-committee, and the annual Mums and Bubs Forum is a great occasion to receive feedback from families who have been through our service.”

Article written by – The Wangaratta Chronicle on Friday 14 FEB 2020

View article as pdf – Farewell Margaret Bennett – Article by The Wangaratta Chronicle on 14 FEB 2020