By Gav Ross
BASS Coast Health (BCH) has lost its second chief executive in less than 18 months.
Board chair Peter Laydon confirmed last week that Veronica Jamison, who replaced Lea Pope in late 2014, has resigned and had already packed her belongings and left last Wednesday, March 2.
It’s yet another blow to the embattled health organisation, which runs Wonthaggi Hospital and a range of other local health services.
With a mounting debt, including a $3.178m loss reported last financial year, BCH will now attempt to recruit another CEO.
As reported on the cover of last week’s Sentinel-Times, Mr Laydon has also announced he is resigning, confirming this week that he will have made his exit by the end of March.
Mr Laydon said Ms Jamison announced her resignation to the board just a few days prior to it being made public.
“She only did it over the weekend (and) I had no idea she was going to resign,” he said, adding that her decision had “nothing at all to do” with his imminent departure.
“My separation from the organisation has nothing at all to do with her decision.
“I wrote to the (health) minister a number of weeks ago about my own resignation.”
Mr Laydon had already confirmed that he is leaving the role for personal reasons.
In a prepared statement, Mr Laydon thanked Ms Jamison for her “strong contribution and dedication to the growth and development of Bass Coast Health”.
“She has overseen many initiatives and projects during her time as the CEO at BCH including the opening of the new short stay unit, the development of the new five year strategic plan and has been a strong advocate for the development of the new community health facility on Phillip Island, and this work will continue,” Mr Laydon said.
Ms Jamison was formerly the CEO of Dianella Community Health in Melbourne’s north and Boort District Health in northern Victoria.
She told the Sentinel-Times upon her arrival that she was attracted to the challenge presented by the merging of Bass Coast’s two main health organisations in mid-2014.
Mr Laydon confirmed the board would appoint Jan Child as interim CEO.
Ms Child began in that position yesterday (Monday).
She has an impressive resume, with more than 30 years’ experience in the sector, including a senior executive role at Peninsula Health.
Mr Laydon added that he doesn’t believe recruiting a replacement CEO will be a challenge.
“Under Veronica’s guidance, the financial team has made significant progress with our finances over the last six months.
“We are currently tracking to budget.
“In fact, our budget for the (current) financial year is slightly ahead.
“Some good work is being done and it’s a credit to the finance team.”
Just prior to the announcement of Ms Jamison’s departure, a Bass Coast Health nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Sentinel-Times that staff supported the former CEO but feared she would not remain with the organisation.
“She is working really hard, but is not getting a fair go,” the nurse said.
The Sentinel-Times approached Ms Jamison for comment but was told she is unavailable.
One facility improvement Ms Jamison was working towards before her resignation was the introduction of a mobile café to Wonthaggi Hospital.
She had hoped the move would raise extra revenue for the health service and grant an employment opportunity to a local coffee business.
It appears this project has now fallen by the wayside, meaning patients and visitors will have to make-do with the automatic hot drinks machine in the hospital foyer.
Debt-strapped hospital pays out CEO’s contract
– What did the Premier know?
FOR an organisation that’s under intense pressure from the State Government to rein in its operating deficit, it comes as some surprise to hear that the Wonthaggi hospital has given its departing CEO, Veronica Jamison, a generous golden handshake.
Although the exact payout figure has not been released, chairman of the board of Bass Coast Health, Peter Laydon, revealed on Gippsland ABC Radio last week that the health service had agreed to pay Ms Jamison’s salary through to the end of the year.
“She rang me last weekend saying she was not going to be seeking a continuation of her contract, which was coming up at the end of the year so we decided to let her go now, which is standard practice in these situations, and we paid out the remainder of her contract,” Mr Laydon said.
Asked why the CEO was leaving, he said she was feeling a lot of pressure and stress in the role, but denied there was a direct link between her decision and the size of the hospital’s debt.
“The fact that we’ve been under a ‘close watch’ by the department for such a long time, places a lot of pressure on everyone,” he said.
It’s clear however, that the Department of Health and Human Services has had a hands-on role with Ms Jamison’s departure.
Mr Laydon said that while the CEO had only informed him last weekend of her plans, the department had, within two days, approved the appointment of Ms Jan Child, a senior executive at Peninsula Health, as interim CEO at Wonthaggi commencing on Monday, March 7, 2016.
Indeed, according to Mr Laydon, the Premier Daniel Andrews, had been directly apprised of the situation at Wonthaggi by Ms Jamison at a recent meeting between the pair.
Ms Jamison was one of a select group of people to attend a ‘behind closed doors’ meeting with the premier, convened by the Bass Coast Shire Council in Wonthaggi, on Friday, January 29.
Mr Laydon said the hospital had been running an operating deficit for several years (“we spend more money than we get”) but he expected the service to be in the black within two to three years’ time.
“The fact is we don’t get enough money from the government to meet all our costs but we’re tracking ahead of budget this year, which is good.”
He conceded the operating deficit was “a couple of million” on average each year but hit $3.178 million last year.
He said the hospital needed to make process improvements, was revisiting areas where it was underfunded by the state government and was also looking for services it could discontinue in an effort to meet budget.
Clearly more cuts are on the way.
But he said it was the service’s rule of not compromising patient care that had probably cost it in the long run.
“Of course we’d like more government funding,” he said on Gippsland ABC Radio, referencing the meeting between Ms Jamison and the Premier when the short-comings at Bass Coast Health were raised.
Strategy reports commissioned by the state government and accepted by the department call for a complete redevelopment of the Wonthaggi hospital to sub-regional status but the present regime has so far been unwilling to commit the necessary funds.
Mr Laydon is also due to step down from his role as chair in the next few weeks.