5 June 2023

'It'd be a recipe for disaster': health chief outlines reasons for quick Calvary Public transition as acquisition court date approaches

| Claire Fenwicke
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man in hi-vis vest at building site

CHS CEO Dave Peffer has told staff the transition of Calvary Public Hospital to the public health service ‘had to be fast’, but the overall handover could take a year. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The CEO of Canberra Health Services (CHS) has moved to dispel “confusion” about the speed of transition for Calvary Public Hospital Bruce in an email message to all staff.

It comes as a day-long hearing has been set for Wednesday (7 June) in the ACT Supreme Court for Calvary Health Care’s legal challenge against the forced acquisition.

CHS CEO Dave Peffer informed staff they had agreed to “hold fire” on transition plans in light of the pending legal proceedings, with a court decision on what can and can’t go ahead expected to “shortly follow”.

“Although it does apply the brake to our transition plan for a few days – it’ll be good to put this uncertainty behind all of us,” he wrote.

“We’ll continue to push on and do what we can to create a positive transition experience for those most impacted by the change – Calvary team members.”

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Mr Peffer went on to address concerns raised by both CHS and Calvary employees about the speed of the transition and the acquisition date.

The ACT Government said it wants the transition to occur by 3 July.

Mr Peffer acknowledged the speed of the acquisition would be fast, but there had also been confusion over the process.

“It had to be fast. The reason – it’s unsafe having uncertainty in clinical governance or decision making in health care for an enduring period of time,” he wrote.

“When a patient arrests or a MET is called, we wouldn’t accept a response where no one was sure who was in charge. It’d be a recipe for disaster.

“Having a health service with 12 months of uncertainty about who’s going to be in charge isn’t good for patients or the workforce.”

He went on to explain the date had been set to dispel uncertainty about who was in charge; however, the rest of the transition program was expected to take a year.

“There are some tasks we consider ‘critical path’, and we’ll work to resolve before 3 July, but there are many more that would be completed over the following 12 months, in a staged and measured way,” Mr Peffer wrote.

“Depending on the events [from the court hearing], we’ll move through a series of gates with a go/no-go decision to be made about the acquisition date, with safety front of mind.

“Compressing the timeframe does increase the degree of difficulty – and the risk profile of the project grows.”

The Northside Hospital Transition Team has already formulated a draft plan for this handover; however, the regulation stipulates it needs to work through the plan with a Calvary representative.

As information sessions about the transition and acquisition cannot be run on the public hospital site due to the legal proceedings, they will continue online and at the University of Canberra Hospital for now.

Mr Peffer also addressed the public criticism of the entire process thus far, some of which he described as “disappointing, deliberate, and not surprising”.

“When the Government’s decision was conveyed, we were promised that things would ‘get messy’,” he wrote.

“It’s a promise they’ve followed through with on a number of levels in a public way. And now, of course, we have lawyers at 50 paces, doing their thing.

“I don’t think it’s been helpful. And it’s hard to see precisely how that’s supporting either [of our] health services’ workforces, or our patients.”

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The government has stood by its 3 July transition date, with the Health Minister stating on Monday (5 June) it was still “very achievable” if the court matter was decided in their favour either on Wednesday or shortly after.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said they were ready to present their draft transition plan as soon as they could legally.

“We know that the Calvary Public Hospital Bruce staff are the experts in how their hospital works. We have been very clear that there is no intention to change how that hospital works in the short term,” she said.

“So sitting down with them to say, ‘Are there things we haven’t thought of through the plan? Are there other things that actually we don’t need to do by the 3rd of July because they’ll just continue on?’, that opportunity for that sort of conversation is really important.

“But obviously, we’ll need to wait until after Wednesday to know whether we can go in and start having those conversations.”

Ms Stephen-Smith reiterated they had considered several transition options, depending on the level of cooperation from Calvary Health Care.

She also acknowledged that any grief some staff felt over the acquisition wouldn’t go away as of 3 July. Support would be put in place for them, including counsellors on-site and through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

There are also plans to bring more specific services on site, but they were not elaborated upon as they form part of the draft transition plan that needs to be viewed by Calvary.

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Phillip Lewis12:14 pm 07 Jun 23

Its not an acquisition, its a take over by force. Barr is a political bully, its his way or no way, democracy, what a joke.

ACT Government needs to be transparent about why. ACTG knows that Calvary has been skimming money from Calvary Public Hospital Bruce (CPHB) for decades. Millions to pay for systems CPHB doesn’t use. Millions for governance & corporate services CPHB doesn’t use. The public hospital providing free & below cost services to the co-located Calvary Private Hospital. The list goes on, & ACTG has evidence to prove it but has done nothing for years. Disgraceful!!!

WHat appears to be a hostile takeover…hmm….could it be because it neatly removes a very visible Christian presence in Canberra?

Universities and hospitals were started by religious orders.

Bob the impala1:12 pm 07 Jun 23

Very fair of you, stevew77, to give full credit to the orders of Islam, Buddhism, Confuicianism and Shintoism for their invention of the scholarly frameworks we now call universities, hundreds of years prior to that one in Bologna.

Good to see you also giving credit to the pre-christian polytheists of Greece and Rome for their public medical services and military hospitals, not to mention the Muslims again, who assert they offered the first open public hospital rather than a religious one for qualified pilgrims.

If Calvary is “a very visible Christian presence in Canberra” then you will find that the great majority of people would prefer a properly functioning public hospital in its place. You can still go to your church.

Capital Retro5:43 pm 06 Jun 23

I had some day surgery at Calvary Public Hospital this morning which I wasn’t looking forward to.

The staff were fantastic – so helpful and friendly – they made my brief stay (compared to the same thing at TCH) a very pleasant occasion.

It’s such an efficient place. I think Calvary should be taking over TCH, CHS, CBR or whatever they call/brand it, not the other way around.

It is a pity that dedicated staff at both TCH and Calvary have to defend themselves against ignoramuses pitting both hospitals against each other!

Jack D,
Well said, if only the government handled this in even a mildly competent manner then most of the issues could have been averted.

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