24 May 2021

Canberra Health Services chief resigns with a 'heavy heart'

| Michael Weaver
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Bernadette McDonald

CEO of Canberra Health Services Bernadette McDonald will step down from the role in July. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The chief executive officer of Canberra Health Services, Bernadette McDonald, has resigned from the role to spend more time with her family in Melbourne.

She said the decision was made “with a heavy heart”.

In an email to all staff on Monday morning (24 May) announcing her resignation, Ms McDonald said working in a high-risk setting while spending long periods of time away from her family contributed to her decision to resign from the role she has held since October 2018.

“I make this decision with a heavy heart. While there are many more things I would love to achieve with you, now is the right time for me to choose to return to my family in Melbourne,” Ms McDonald said in her email.

“As many of you would know, the past year has been particularly tough for me, not only dealing with the uncertainty and anxiety of the pandemic, but also having to spend large periods of time apart from my husband and children.”

Ms McDonald said leading the organisation has been a career highlight, although being away from family for as long as eight months during the pandemic had proved a challenge.

“It has been a great privilege to lead an organisation whose very existence is about delivering exceptional health care to our community,” she said.

“Now is the time for me to return to Melbourne and make up for the time I missed. Plus, I’ve got a wedding to plan for my daughter and a mum who is getting older and needs a little more support than I can provide every second weekend.”

Rachel Stephen-Smith, Bernadette McDonald and Glenn Keys

Rachel Stephen-Smith, Bernadette McDonald and CEO of Aspen Medical Glenn Keys prior to building the COVID-19 surge centre at Garran. Photo: File.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said Ms McDonald has been an outstanding leader for Canberra Health Services.

“Her calm and unwavering leadership of the clinical response to COVID-19 has been invaluable for staff and the entire Canberra community,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“While Bernadette was working to protect the health and safety of Canberrans, her family were in Melbourne. Despite the long periods of time away from her family, Bernadette worked tirelessly to lead and support more than 7,000 clinical, administrative and support staff in a time of significant stress and uncertainty.

“It has been clear to me in every conversation with Bernadette that her priority was the delivery of high-quality health care for the people of the ACT and surrounding region, delivered by staff who are safe and well supported.

“On a personal level, it has been a privilege to work with Bernadette and I have learned a lot from her about health systems, leadership and resilience in difficult times.”

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Ms McDonald said she was proud to be leaving the organisation stronger than when she arrived, and overseeing major projects such as the Canberra Hospital expansion, the introduction of digital health records and implementation of a culture review.

“There are many things that I will be proud of and reflect upon as I leave CHS,” she said.

“However, I am most proud of how so many of you are now standing up and leading in a very strong way, which was not always the case when I arrived in 2018.

“This, along with a clear vision and values, and a great strategic plan focused on people, both patients and staff, tells me that CHS has the solid foundations to become a truly great health service.”

Ms McDonald will continue as Canberra Health Services CEO until the end of July. An interim CEO will be announced in the coming weeks.

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So many times we have heard public figures use this same excuse of wanting to spend more time with their family. This line is usually brought out when they have stuffed up, can’t handle the pressure or been caught out for something. Whatever happened to the concepts of duty, commitment and contract?

optimusmaximus12:37 pm 05 Sep 21

Why everyone who takes this role ends up leaving after a short time is testament to the culture in CHS, indeed the whole of ACT Government. This “leaving to spend more time with my family” rhetoric, which so many executives use, often hides an ugly truth. To me her resignation demonstrated once again how backward the ACT is in comparison to other States in the Commonwealth. The Canberra Hospital is a prime example. It is trying to be modern large-city health care provider but still has a mentality of a small-town country hospital. I find it quite remarkable that it is still plagued by problems – both cultural and professional – that has created a revolving door of senior executives, most notably the position of Chief Executive Officer of Canberra Health Services and ACT Health Minister. In all fairness to all those whose has tried to fix this broken system, failed and moved on, I can only conclude think the job of CEO of the Canberra Hospital is far more difficult than most people believe. A few days before the CEO resigned I informed her I was going to sue CHS on a matter to pertaining a serious case of unfair dismisal at the Canberra Hospital. Now I am not so vain to believe this had anything to do with her resignation directly but, as she was in full possession of the facts of the case at the time and knew about the series of deplorable events that led up to the dismissal several months prior, she was obviously working hard to find an excuse when I last communicated with her. In all fairness, though, she did wish me well via email when she left. I won’t say it was disingenuous, but an apology would have been better.

Zero level of commitment if you don’t bring your family along.

Capital Retro9:44 pm 24 May 21

I don’t think the people in high places in Canberra have families so they have no idea what value is placed on them.

I can’t recall seeing any media images any of our top decision makers with family members.

not really sure what this comment is supposed to mean? Perhaps you can explain who you’re refering to? Are you just having a snide dig at andrew Barr, because he’s gay and doesn’t have children?

There are many leaders in canberra who have children and families – many don’t parade them in front of the media like conservative politicians like to do

her daughter is about to get married! and she wants to spend more time with her elderly mum. Are you expecting them to move to Canberra? or did you just make assumptions without actually reading the article

Capital Retro8:25 am 25 May 21

I read all that so, what?

She had those know contingencies when she accepted the job. I had to make sacrifices when I moved to Canberra from interstate 40 years ago and I dealt with them including moving my elderly mother from Sydney at my own expense.

I expect the ACT government was paying for her regular trips to Melbourne and return as part of her salary package.

Capital Retro8:34 am 25 May 21

I wasn’t having a snide dig at Andrew Barr at all as we all know he doesn’t have his own children which is his choice as plenty of gay people do have children and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, that didn’t stop him posing with someone else’s child before the last election just “like conservative politicians do”: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6932342/federal-labor-big-guns-attack-coes-conservatism-at-barrs-campaign-launch/

Note the caption under the image says “Chief Minister Andrew Barr with his family……”

Another Captain Health jumping the sinking ship. Melbourne is a great place to be able to escape to for these executives.

Capital Retro3:21 pm 24 May 21

Only here 3 years but the family stays interstate? This happens regularly with ACT high level executive appointments and yet we are led to believe that the ACT residents have the highest educational qualifications in Australia.

Surely there are career paths within these directorates that would have groomed plenty of aspirants for the top jobs or is this some sort of a cringe our government has?

Finagen_erection3:09 pm 24 May 21

Tough gig. Certainly done well steering a new course for the organisation.

It’s still got flaws and cannot manage a budget to save itself, but thankfully it doesn’t have to. Treasury puppets can keep topping it up.

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