Wayne Champion | Insights from Industry Leaders
Chief Executive Officer at Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network
Wayne Champion is the Chief Executive Officer of the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network. Prior to joining Riverland Mallee Coorong LHN, Wayne was the Acting Chief Operating Officer at Country Health SA and Regional Director for Riverland after moving to Australia from Christchurch, New Zealand.
Wayne recently sat down with Ccentric consultant, Michael De Santis to discuss his career. Some of the questions they discussed include:
- What was your first role out of university, and do you feel it has shaped your career?
- Having worked in both the Australian and New Zealand healthcare systems, what do you think are the biggest differences?
- You were Operations Controller for the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake Response, how do you feel this experience has impacted you?
- What have been the benefits and challenges of the restructure process of Country SA LHN with the establishment of the new 6 Local Health Networks?
- When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?
- Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you are working with evolve and manage these issues?
- Who has inspired you both in your career?
- What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?
What was your first role out of university, and do you feel it has shaped your career?
My first role out of university was as a freelance scuba diving instructor, I’m not sure it shaped the latter part of my career, but it did set up some things. There’s clearly the part about working under pressure as a scuba diving instructor, but it did teach me to work with people, it taught me to enjoy what I’m doing and to assess situations before I go into them.
Having worked in both the Australian and New Zealand healthcare systems, what do you think are the biggest differences?
The biggest differences are structural, and they relate to the differences and the government structure between the two countries. In New Zealand is just one national government and then local councils. In Australia, there’s a national government followed by state governments and local councils. In New Zealand, there’s one national of government responsible for all health services, primary health services, residential care, hospital services. In Australia, the Commonwealth government looks after residential care and primary health services; with the states primarily responsible for hospital services. The other differences are around the funding for health services, New Zealand has a population-based funding formula where district health boards are funded according to the population that they serve. They then manage health services, not only the ones they provide they also contract and buy health services, to meet all of the health needs of their population. In Australia, LHN’s, LHD’s or HHS (they are called different things in different states) are hospital providers predominately. These exist in an ecosystem with other providers, GP’s, residential aged care providers, that are funded separately.
You were Operations Controller for the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake Response, how do you feel this experience has impacted you?
It’s been immense. I worked for what was the West Coast District Health Board in New Zealand. Both as the Chief Operating Officer, responsible for Greymouth Base Hospital and also their General Manager of Corporate Services at the time. The Canterbury District Health Board team managed the initial response from the earthquake, about a week after the earthquake they rang me up and invited me over. I didn’t really have any idea what I was going over there for, they gave me a briefing and from then on I was in charge. I still had the support of the team there, but they are just worn themselves out managing the first week of the response. For the next nine months, I was based in Christchurch managing the earthquake response through the remaining three weeks of the time that Christchurch and New Zealand was in its nationally declared a state of emergency and through numerous aftershocks since.
It really took me from managing a hospital, Greymouth Base Hospital, to managing/supporting the management of a health service. The people that normally manage each hospital were still there within Christchurch, the people that manage GP practices. But I was involved in coordinating the response across the entire health system.
There were around 131 GP practices in Christchurch, 116 community pharmacies and 105 residential aged care facilities, plus all of the public and private hospitals, all in a state of emergency and chaos. Canterbury District Health Board had amazing systems and had already established a fantastic response structure. And the focus on the purpose of being there, the people of Christchurch, the people affected by the emergency was a lesson in itself. The focus was on putting the health system back together better than it was to start with, not replacing things that were broken previously with the same thing, that was also a huge lesson in its own right.
What have been the benefits and challenges of the restructure process of Country SA LHN with the establishment of the new 6 Local Health Networks?
In terms of my experience of it, I went from being Chief Operating Officer of Country Health, responsible for 61 hospitals as acting as the Interim Chief Operating Officer, to being Chief Executive Officer of one of the new LHN’s made up of a region of country health.
The purpose of the change was to bring decision making closer to the communities affected by the decisions, to give communities, consumers and clinicians a voice in decisions made about their health services. The challenge, of course, is delivering on that and delivering that relatively quickly. But in an organisation that is going through a change with the establishment of boards, prior to the change, the CEO of Country Health reported to the Chief Executive of SA Health, that then reported to the minister. Now, the CEO’s like myself all report to a skills-based board, that report to the minister. The change in the relationship that creates with the department that is still the primary funder, and still has to coordinate the health system. Those have been the challenges and I think the role of the department in coordinating the system gets really interesting when you’ve got emergencies that require system-wide coordination, such as the recent bushfires in South Australia or the threat of COVID-19.
When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?
I guess the key attributes are adaptability and the diversity of their experience. It’s not apart from experience, but when we look at the experience we are looking at the diversity of that experience, not just experience and whatever the discipline is. We also look at their ability to fit the culture and to contribute to effecting desired changes in the organisational culture.
Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you are working with evolve and manage these issues?
Diversity means lots of different things, to lots of different people. We have diverse workplaces, diverse client base, diversity of services that we provide aimed at meeting the needs of different populations and different groups within those populations. Increasingly, we try to provide services that are individualised to every individual’s wants and needs. But we struggle because we’re trying to do it as one single large organisation. To me, it comes back a little bit back to some lessons from New Zealand.
In New Zealand, we have the Treaty of Waitangi and without going into the history of New Zealand and what’s right and wrong with that. The treaty essentially has three sections, and these relate to three principles; partnership, protection and participation.
The first principle is about partnership, and by partnership, I mean bringing any group in as a partner and supporting them to help us meet their needs. Protection of their rights, their individuality, their culture and their customs. Finally, participation, this is the right to participate in decision making that affects them. Whether it’s them as an individual consumer or client, as an individual staff member, or whether it’s their right to participate in the provision of services. So if you think of a particular ethnic group or particular consumer group, their right to be served by people that are familiar with them in the delivery of health services, their right to participate in the governance of health services, and the government generally. If you use those three P’s as a guiding principle, generally they meet the needs of most diverse groups.
Who has inspired you both in your career?
I’ve been inspired by different people at different times. Some of the CEO’s that I’ve worked with have inspired me, some of them not so much, and there are particular CEO’s I’ve worked with that have inspired me more than others. I think some would be surprised by that. One person in particular that inspired me was Kevin Hague, who was the CEO of the West Coast District Health Board back when I was Chief Financial Officer. Prior to that, he was responsible for planning and funding, so funding external services, but really his focus on population health, on understanding the needs of the population and directing services in ways of shifting resources and ways to meet those diverse needs. Inspired me really and probably got me interested in managing systems instead of services.
What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?
I guess the top tip is to stay focused on your reason for being, in health, it’s about patients, consumers, populations and health outcomes. So be clear what it is that you’re there for and to never lose focus on that.
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