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Sixth-month interim CEO for Portland hospital

THE PORTLAND District Health (PDH) board have appointed an interim CEO for six months, as it looks to fill the top job permanently.
Colac Area Health’s Chief Executive Fiona Brew has been seconded by the Department of Health to run Portland, and will have her first day on the job on February 5.
Ms Brew said the priority on that first day is to meet staff, and start learning about the issues the hospital is facing.
“I have asked to go around the clinical areas and meet key staff, I’m keen to catch up with staff and see what we can do better,” she said.
“Often I find the staff have got the solutions, they’ve got frustrations, but also they’ve got the solutions.
“Sometimes it’s enabling those low hanging fruit to prosper, so I’ll be really keen to have a chat to the staff, and then full meetings with the board, and I suspect there will be other people in the community that I will need to meet.”
Ms Brew said she does not see the interim role as one where she needs to be cautious about making changes.
“I’ve done it from four weeks to 12 months,” she said.
“It’s not a caretaker role, this is an opportunity to actually get things done.
“So I don’t see it very differently (to a permanent CEO) and I’m sure the board doesn’t either.”
As for what those changes might be, Ms Brew said she needs to get to Portland and assess things first.
“Until I get there I’m not really going to know, but there’s areas that you will look at and understand where we can go what we could do,” she said.
Starting her career in healthcare as a nurse and rising through the ranks to run surgical theatres for a number of years in Ballarat, Ms Brew completed her Master of Business Administration and moved into more senior management roles starting in around 2004.
Those include Executive Director of Nursing at Maryborough District Health Service, Executive Director Innovation and Performance, Chief Nurse and Midwifery Officer at Goulburn Valley Health, and Executive Director People and Culture at Ballarat Health Services, and a secondment to the ACT for a workplace culture review, before taking the CEO role at Colac.
Ms Brew said that for the moment, she has been directed to gain an understanding of how the hospital operates and “steady the ship” after the recent departure of CEO Sam Sharp.
“It’s about unpacking things and seeing what opportunities there are,” she said.
“We do a lot of partnership work at this end of the region, with HESSE Rural Health and Great Ocean Road Health around chronic conditions, we partner with Barwon Health and do a fair bit of their surgeries, and purchase some of their services and that’s been quite useful.
“Is there opportunities for those sorts of things for Portland? That’ll be interesting to see when I come down.
“We work as a health system, so it’s really useful to lever off each other.
“I’m actually doing a fair bit of work from a regional perspective in that space anyway, so it’s good to understand what opportunities, if any, is there for Portland.
“The (PDH) board’s been interested in what we’ve been able to achieve there out at Colac, so they’re interested in me exploring some of those opportunities in Portland.”
The staffing shortages that PDH is facing is a familiar issue to Ms Brew, who said Colac is also stretched thin on medical staff and specialists in recent years.
“We’ve got that scenario here, but it is across the state and across the nation,” she said.
“Unfortunately, locum costs are high, I think there’s an opportunity to see if we can do things better (in Portland) but I won’t know until I’m down there.
“COVID has changed things forever in that space and that means we do have to look at things differently.
“There’s some successful work we’ve done in Colac, looking at our allied health staff, with expanded scope of practice and things like that, because we’re short on speech pathologists, we’re short on physios and things like that, but we’ve got fantastic allied health assistants that are working to extend the scope of practice.
“A lot of those other services can actually support the role of medical staff as well as provide types of care that actually can contribute to people’s health and wellbeing.”
South West Coast MP Roma Britnell said the appointment was “good news for Portland”.
“We welcome Fiona and I will do all I am able to assist where I can,” she said.
“It’s important for the health service to have this experienced leadership to progress and work towards restoring services and working with the brilliant staff who are committed to PDH.”
The state Department of Health confirmed that the CEO recruitment process has begun.
“Whilst recruitment of a CEO occurs, Colac Area Health (CAH) CEO Fiona Brew will be taking up a six-month role as Interim CEO. We welcome the interim appointment of Fiona Brew and thank her for taking on the position while a permanent CEO is recruited,” a Victorian Government Spokesperson said.
PDH board chair Peter Matthews also welcomed the appointment.
“The board looks forward to working with Fiona over the next six months as we recruit the next CEO,” he said.

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