In an open and frank discussion, Mildura Base Public Hospital’s CEO, Terry Welch, spoke about some of the immediate challenges he and the board dealt with following the transition back to public administration in September last year.

“I think there were probably three categories of challenges,” Mr Welch said.

“The first was that we had to demonstrate to the community that we would do what we said we would do. And I think if you look at the way we have been so publicly outgoing and open, including the way we are dealing with feedback, both positive and negative, the way we are engaging with community groups, the way we are connecting with the Aboriginal community members and many other sectors of the community, that challenge in terms of community trust and community engagement, I feel we’ve moved through really well.”

Mr Welch paid tribute to the board and its chair Mary Rydberg for their efforts since the transition.

“Again, that’s a credit to Mary in the board in enabling us to achieve what we’ve done in that space,” Mr Welch said.

Mrs Rydberg made that point that the hospital’s board is comprised of members of the local community.

“For the board, it’s a good reminder that they are the community,” she said.

“And so by virtue of the fact that we put together a local governance board, that gives the community a bigger voice.
“And the establishment of our community collaborative group has been very successful, and they’re at a stage where they’re just beginning to work on some projects including some beautiful Aboriginal art installations and certainly the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group is going to be really important too.
“I think it’s important to remember that the community is bigger than Mildura and often we see the hospital as servicing Mildura and yet we service the whole Mallee.
“And you know, one of our challenges as we move forward is bearing in mind that it’s wider than the Mildura community.”

Mr Welch said that one of the other key challenges of the three, was in relation to the staff believing in the MBPH’s vision.

“This was about seeing that what we were saying would actually happen and I think we are doing that every day and the third one was the ‘structural-piece,” he said.

“What we took over, was a hospital with a thousand staff –and engaged and highly focused community – and so we had to build internal programs, both from a staffing, structural point of view and from a corporate-office point of view.
“And that’s been a huge piece of work that has gone on behind the scenes as it should, but it’s been a huge focus for us to build those quality teams and finance teams and all the things that make really good organisations to be able to move to become great organisations.”

Mr Welch recounted an experience that has profoundly stayed with him since he encountered a moving moment in the Hospital’s cancer treatment department.

“One picture that I think resonates strongest with me was when cancer patient, Sara White had finished her chemotherapy treatment and was declared to be in remission, she ‘rang the bell’ in the chemotherapy clinic,” Mr Welch said.

“We put a bell in there and when people finish their chemotherapy they ring it to say their treatment is over and it’s been successful.
“And what that one image did for me was very emotional. I felt really touched by it, because it was just us again opening up our doors, softening our focus and being able to say to people hey, we’re here for patients, we’re here to care.
“And it was that one photo, which I’ll never forget in my career now, because it was a defining moment of the transition.
“In saying that, I’m not suggesting things weren’t like that in the past and will continue to be built on in the future, but it was just a really milestone moment for me to be seeing her ring that bell and hearing what that meant – I’ve finished my treatment, I’m over my cancer and I’m in remission.”

Mr Welch said following that the hospital had a person on Facebook write to them saying that they had finished their treatment a month ago and all they wanted to do was ring the bell.

“We invited them in and they rang the bell − that’s connection. And that to me, outside of all the things we could celebrate that we’re doing well, that was a wonderful moment,” he said.

“It was just a softening of the organisation to say, we are here for patients − it was an amazing Milestone.”

Mr Welch said that in terms of the community’s perception of the new administration’s management of the hospital, that is for others to judge.

“What I would say is the connection with the community is clearly there,” he said.
“We’re getting feedback both ways, which is what we want. We want to improve, but we also want to be able to celebrate the things we’re doing well.
“We’ve got a catchment of around 80,000 people. There will be some saying we’re doing a great job, some saying we’re not. That’s reality and we are always looking to improve.”

Mr Welch said the other significant process that has been undertaken was a comprehensive consultation process in regard to the hospital’s organisational values.

“The values are the centrepiece of how we function, operate and behave,” he said.

“And so our new values operate under the acronym of HEART, which stands for: happy, empathy accountability, respect and team-based and we went with those because that’s what staff said they wanted. And for some people, the one that’s really interesting, is happy.
“We want staff to actually be happy at work. You want to hear some laughter – you want to hear some joy in the workplace – because hospitals are enormously challenging businesses.”

Mr Welch said that they are also in the process of rolling out their Patient Safety Program.

“This will introduce a range of new initiatives, that over time, the community will very strongly see and we will see it in indicators, that we monitor in key areas, and we will see some strong improvement and where we don’t see improvement, we will keep trying, we’ll keep learning and we will keep reviewing.”

An area that frequently receives complaints from the public, is the Emergency Department (ED) in in hospitals throughout the state. The MBPH’s ED is not immune to these, something Mr Welch is acutely aware of.

“Our emergency department is extremely busy. To put it in context, our ED is bigger and busier than some regionally-based emergency departments,” Mr Welch said.

“The volume of people going through the department averages 100 a day and we’ve had to do deal the current COVID restriction and have the facility split in half – they have a COVID suspected side. So there’s no question. ED’s challenging and our team do an incredible job with all we’ve got.To ever fix ED’s completely it has to be an integrated health response.”
“There’s no question we do struggle with some of the low acuity presentations, the general practice type presentations, who unfortunately do have to wait and we do deal with some complaints about them.
“But the reality is our ED is not the answer for every solution of health care in our community.
“It is unfortunate that people have to wait, but we are hamstrung to some degree in terms of what we can do given the volume of is just so big.”