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Health service overhaul

Monday, 10th February, 2020

Umit Agis is the new CEO of the Far West Local Health District. PICTURE: Callum Marshall Umit Agis is the new CEO of the Far West Local Health District. PICTURE: Callum Marshall

By Callum Marshall

The new CEO of the Far West Local Health District has said accountability, governance and innovation were among the areas he’d be focusing on.

Umit Agis, who was appointed Chief Executive on January 13, has held a number of senior health roles in several jurisdictions.

Mr Agis’s experience includes working as the Group General Manager for several state-wide services for Tasmanian Health and he was most recently the Director of Strategy and Clinical Operations for Country Health South Australia.

Speaking to the BDT last week, Mr Agis brought up the aforementioned areas when asked what he’d be concentrating on in particular.

“I’m interested in everything but there are three pillars that I’m particularly committed to, and that’s what I hope to bring - accountability, innovation and governance,” he said.

Having only been in the role for three weeks, Mr Agis said he was still observing what was going on.

“What I’m seeing is quite encouraging,” he said.

“There’s a lot of changes that have been put in place, particularly in the last 12 months, and they all seem to be working quite well.

“What I’m excited about is to consolidate that but also move it forward beyond that, and I think what I do bring to the role is a much wider perspective that incorporates what I’ve learnt.

“I’m hoping that knowledge will add value to those pillars.”

Community engagement around models of care was another area of interest, he said.

“That’s really paramount to everything that we do,” said Mr Agis.

“One of the things that I do want to bring, which is part of our board’s vision and certainly our LHD’s vision, is to actually provide care close to people’s homes.

“To do that, certainly in a remote area, you have to take advantage of technology.

“I’m seeing lots of amazing innovations both here and elsewhere and I think we can really leverage that to improve access and quality of our services.”

Mr Agis’ move into the Chief Executive role has also come at a time when the local health service has faced scrutiny following the airing of a 4 Corners program last year.

The program examined the death of a local teenager in 2017 and Broken Hill Hospital’s perceived failure in assessment, medical testing and quick hospital transfer.

It further examined a “cultural problem” within the hospital’s management and a year-long delay of the investigation into the teenager’s death, which was only brought to light by a group of former clinicians at the hospital.

Former clinicians also highlighted their concerns to the BDT recently, including frustrations at not being adequately heard by management when issues arose. 

Last month the BDT also reported that the NSW Ombudsman was investigating allegations that former FWLHD Chief Executive Stephen Rodwell was involved in covering up the circumstances relating to the death of a patient at Coffs Harbour Hospital in 2014.

These matters were put to Mr Agis and he said openness was key to alleviating community.

“Transparency is certainly what I’m looking in terms of actually how transparent we are,” he said.

“And...the mechanisms by which we can actually embed the transparency - both to our community and, equally importantly, our staff.

“We have a number of mechanisms in terms of various forums, for example, and some of our processes.

“Ensuring that our selection processes, how we communicate, how we engage people in what we’re doing, I think, is an area of focus.”

Mr Agis said there’d been a lot of work done to improve those processes and to ensure the health service was learning.

“The challenge is that in a health organisation something’s going to go wrong at some point,” he said.

“The challenge is not so much something not going wrong, it’s about ensuring that you, as much as you can, minimise the risk of that occurring.

“And should an unfortunate circumstance occur where something goes wrong, that we actually learn from it.

“That means whether there are incidents or RCAs (Root Causes Analysis) or what have you, that we have robust mechanisms.

“Where things are looked at, clearly understood, issues are being identified and, much more important, that we have means to rectify (them.) 

“Then we can give feedback to all those concerned that we’re actually doing what we said we’d be doing. 

“That is a key going forward.”

Asked if that would include examining the service’s complaints process, Mr Agis said he was looking at everything.

“This system here is different. I think it’s quite robust,” he said.

“But I think that I can bring further improvements, based on my experience elsewhere, to that process.

“That not only do we have a system for handling (complaints) but, more importantly, how do we actually internally ensure what we said we’re going to do is being done and how do we communicate that to the community.”

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