When asked how the transition to the public administration has been proceeding and what significant changes were occurring at the hospital during this transformation, CEO Terry Welch was refreshingly forthright.

“It’s really interesting. We’re almost seven months ‘old’ and it feels like the transition was a long time ago,” he said.

“And if you sit back and think about our discussions on September 15, last year, which was transition day and from there we’ve certainly worked hard on the transition and now we feel we’re into the transformation phase of that program.

“We’ve done an enormous amount of work from September 15 onwards, to build the organisation in terms of the structure that you need to run a public health service and the recruitment we need to be able to deliver great care, and of course the board as well through Mary’s leadership, have founded its governance model and structures we need.”

Mr Welch said implementing those processes had been an enormous journey which had proceeded smoothly.

“We sit here today delighted with the way it has been so smooth and we’ve been able to function with great continuity, but we also recognise that transformation is now a long-term journey for us, and we’re really looking forward to delivering and being able to showcase that to the community.”

Mrs Rydberg said that the board is certainly focused on maintaining a close oversight of the hospital operations.

“It’s been a challenge for Terry and the executive team to develop the systems for the board as well as internally, but we are certainly very happy with the work that’s been done and it’s an evolving situation – we aren’t finished yet,” she said.

“We’re now beginning to think about strategy and the broader picture. It’s been a very operationally focused six months, but a very successful one, and I am very happy with the quality of what’s been achieved.”

The new administration took over the running of the hospital in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, which fortunately saw Mildura being relatively unaffected by coronavirus and Mr Welch said that the situation had created a great test for the hospital.

“This is healthcare and everyday we are adapting to new circumstances that often the public don’t see,” he said.

“The reality is that because COVID has been so public, it has provided a wonderful demonstration of how our organisation can adapt and be flexible and cope with ever-changing protocols, ever changing requirements, including the vaccination program of our frontline staff which is underway now.

“Was it a challenge? Absolutely, but I think it was a great way to demonstrate publicly, what hospitals do and what we did at MBPH in terms of adapting to that high-end need of COVID and what we had to do and what we still have to do today.

“We’re still wearing masks and we still have protocols and we have been hypersensitive, as we should be.”

Mr Welch took the opportunity to clarify what has been misunderstood in some quarters in relation to Bendigo Health’s involvement with the administration of the hospital.

“For clarity, Bendigo Health have no role in terms of the governance and the operational component day-to-day of MBPH,” he said.

“What Bendigo Health does have, is a very strong partnership with us in terms of sharing planning thoughts and operational considerations, but we are completely independent of Bendigo Health and we need to be very clear about that.

“The reality is, we book-end our region. We are up in the north, Bendigo Health is down in the South, and if you want great health care planning, it’s more than just locally based – it’s area based.

“At the board level and at the operational level, we have terrific discussions with Bendigo Health, but we are very clear that we are an independent body. Mary and the board have full autonomy and we operate as such.”

Mr Welch was asked how the staff at the hospital have found the transition and has it been a satisfying experience for them thus far?

“We have a thousand staff and so the reality is, if you look at that in context, it’s a challenge to transition a thousand staff across,” he said.

“We’ve done that, and I think it’s a credit to our whole team, and the reality is that we’ve lost very few staff from transition onwards, in fact what you are seeing, is strength in recruitment and we have seen a number of people returning to the hospital to work.

“Mary gets a lot of feedback and I get a lot of feedback, and look no, organization is perfect, but what we’ve been trying to do since transition, is to build our culture, bring our values to life, bring some joy to work, and really be able make our staff what they are.

“They’re an incredible team. As I said there’s a thousand staff here and I can tell you they are remarkable people, who are very committed to improving organisation and very committed to improving our workplace. And certainly as a CEO, I’m very proud of them for what they bring to this organisation.

“I know Mary and the board are as well. And the fact is that we are now able to move forward with our vision and able to move forward with our values-based program, because the staff have adopted and embraced this and it’s why the MBPH is able to move forward so well.”

Mr Welch praised the attitude of the hospital’s staff in embracing change.

“I’m absolutely delighted with the engagement of the staff. I think overall satisfaction of the staff is good,” he said.

“While being very mindful that there are always things we can improve as a workplace and we will continue to do so.

“Importantly, one of the things we did focus on at an early stage, was the health and well-being of our staff.

“We have initiated a health and well-being program here and we are supporting staff through hardship through really difficult circumstances in a way that people will never see.

“It’s a new program that we’ve bought to the table and certainly staff have taken the opportunity to use that for whatever the need is.

“I think that’s the way, as a public health service, we demonstrate our commitment to the well-being and mindfulness of our staff and really have that empathetic lens, both through our patients and our staff.”

Next week we will bring you part-two of the MBPH’s evolution under the new management structure, including the pressure on the Emergency Department, the introduction of new measures to improve patient safety and the implementation of a new standard in values known as HEART.