Emeritus Professor Peter Matthews has been a CHRH and Kyneton District Health Board director for 9 years, and Chair of the Board for 8.5 of those. We caught up with him recently, to discuss his time with CHRH.
How would you describe yourself?
Curious. There’s a certain tenacity about what I do. When I investigate something, I work hard and I do it thoroughly. I’m serious about work, but not about myself! I don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details.
Why did you decide to join the KDH Board in 2013? What attracted you to that role?
In part, it was down to my wife’s avid reading of the local newspapers! She saw the ad for Board Directors and showed it to me. I had been travelling for work for a while, and thought it would be nice to focus my attention closer to home.
I work in the arts, which is a volatile industry. I had also worked in a university environment for 10 years, including being head of a school, so I felt those skills could translate. I also had experience working with government and knew that would be helpful. Collectively, I had enough knowledge and experience to perform the role well, so I put my hand up and decided to wait and see.
One of the questions I was asked in my interview for the role was, ‘What should Kyneton District Health [as it was known then] be?’ I hadn’t rehearsed an answer for such a question, so thought for a while before responding with, ‘A safe harbour.’ A health service can’t offer everything – it can’t be everything to all people – but if someone turns up unwell, we either need to know how to look after them, or know where they need to go.
What values are most important to you – in staff and in a leadership team?
Civility, respect, integrity. People should be courteous – they can disagree, but it needs to be done agreeably. A Just Culture ensures we are accountable for our actions, but any problems are resolved in a respectful way. We deal with the facts and evidence, and then we move on.
In terms of the Board, this group of people in an organisation has an ultimate power, so it’s important that they exercise caution and act purposefully and responsibly.
Why is it so important for you to link in with community members and the local communities you serve?
I live here. I’ve lived in regional settings for most of my life. Central Highlands sits in a shadow, or on the fringe, of a big city – t not quite country, but not the city. So, it’s important to get the balance right, of the services local people should be able to draw on. The hospital should reflect the local community – it should be a safe harbour, a place of refuge, with health services that are necessary or needed.
What keeps you motivated?
Challenges. Being on the Board of CHRH, with a limited time to achieve results, it helps to motivate you to do something positive within that timeframe. The first major challenge was to revitalise Kyneton District Health. Another challenge was the amalgamation – ensuring that was a smooth and positive experience for staff and community members.
Challenges can also be opportunities. The challenge of COVID has resulted in us working more closely together with other health services. COVID was/is a common problem that needed a common solution.
How do you motivate others to create change and improve?
People who work in health are already motivated. So, I saw my role as helping to guide that motivation.
Consistency is important – if you’ve concluded what needs to be done (for example, the amalgamation), and you’ve completed all the checks and balances, being consistent in implementation is key.
Thanking people for their contributions. Healthcare workers give of themselves every day, but they deserve and appreciate a thank you.
What were the biggest challenges for the health service during your time in leadership?
When I joined the Kyneton District Health Board, the organisation was experiencing some serious community engagement challenges. The health service seemed to have lost its way – asking, ‘Why were they here?’ There were poor relationships with the local community and with government, financial problems, and loss of people in executive positions.
The level of care was not the problem, it was understanding who we are and what we do.
Another challenge was COVID. The pandemic hit three months after the amalgamation of HHS and KDH, but the place didn’t fall apart! The first 100 days after an amalgamation are critical, and the way staff adjusted, and then responded to COVID, was inspirational.
What do you feel are the biggest achievements of CHRH during your time on the Board?
Revitalising KDH – it gave staff such a sense of achievement to have made it through a rough patch and out the other side. There were a couple of community-based events that helped to change people’s disposition. We ran an Open Day – which gave staff a sense of being able to celebrate what they do. We also held a Tree Planting day. We were expecting 30-50 people, but around 200 people showed up! This was out first Indigenous Welcome to Country, we had tree donations and people all wanting to plant a tree – that day had a big impact.
The Treehouse program – it’s only a small group, but it has such a big impact, on the physical and mental wellbeing of others.
The amalgamation was a big achievement. It was well researched and well planned. There was a lot of consultation so that when it did happen, it was seamless. In an amalgamation, there can be a sense of loss of identity, so we made sure to incorporate the local history of each health service and named each campus after their area – Clunes Health, Creswick Health, Daylesford Health, Kyneton Health and Trentham Health.
What is something you've learned during your time with CHRH?
I have learnt that you can learn! About statutory agencies, about the complexity of health (and all the acronyms), about the cost of health, and about Board dynamics.
A Board is made up of many different personalities, all with different views and approaches – I have learnt to pull out the core idea from what everyone’s saying. To capture the story – what are we doing, why are we doing it, who will do what?
I have learnt to keep an open mind. To distil ideas, not dilute them. All voices should be heard.
What do you personally like most about working with CHRH, its Board and its leadership team?
A local hospital is a necessary and a good thing. I believe in the health service, and my hope is that I’ve made a positive contribution.
The people are great! The quality and commitment of the Board members and staff is unwavering. There is a great humility from the nursing staff.
Do you feel you're leaving CHRH in a good place, set up well for the future?
Absolutely. An organisation will always face challenges, but I feel as though we’ve accomplished good things and are in a good place.
From 1 December 2019, the Board and CEO have been totally focussed on Central Highlands Rural Health – we acknowledge our history, but we focus on the future.
Is there anything you wanted to do during your time on the Board, but didn't get the chance?
Not really. I came to learn, I did that. CHRH is such a dynamic environment – we need to respond to what’s happening, whether that’s COVID or local storms, and we’ve shown we can manage. We’ve kept on moving and have introduced programs in spite of COVID. We have beautiful new facilities at Creswick.
Where to from here? What will you be focusing on in the not too distant future?
I have been working with Portland District Health for the past 12 months and will continue in that role. I am Chair of a Dance Company in Tasmania. I’m on the Macedon Ranges Shire Council Audit and Risk Committee. I’ll be keeping busy.