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21 Barclay Street, Heywood, VIC, 3304

Heywood’s the permanent home for Leigh

It speaks volumes of how keen Heywood Rural health staff were for acting chief executive Leigh Parker to apply for the job on a permanent basis that several actively pleaded with him to do so.

And their wishes have been granted, with Mr Parker a popular appointment when recently appointed to the role he has been filling for nearly a year on secondment from Port Fairy-based Moyne Health as former chief executive Ros Jones went on personal leave.

Her decision to resign opened up the job, and while Mr Parker won’t officially be chief executive until October 5, the time he’s spent in the role has probably felt like a lifetime.

First there was the cyber attack that crippled south west health systems shortly after he joined HRH.

Then came the summer bushfires.

And to top it off has been the coronavirus pandemic, an issue like no other.

” I’ve not experienced a year like the last twelve months,” Mr Parker said.

“It’s been a roller coaster.

“When I first started out it was going to be a three-week fill-in appointment and within those three weeks the cyber attack occurred.”

HRH, like the rest of society, is still working through the pandemic, which casts a long shadow over everything.

“It’s been an interesting time getting to know the local community and volunteers like Terry Sparrow and Barry Watson (of the neighbouring Heywood Men’s Shed), “ Mr Parker said.

“Also engaging with staff and residents and working through our external challenges whilst at the same time delivering great services even though we’ve changed the service delivery methods.

“The biggest change has been facilitating people being able to work from home where they can but also literally overnight moving to a virtual environment delivering health care within certain specialities and the (GP clinic).

“That’s been one of the most profound challenges to health care delivery in my time and it seems to have worked reasonably well.

“Not only have the clients and the patients been receptive but also the clinicians and support staff.”

But while no-one knows when things will approach normality again, there are other plans at HRH, Heywood’s largest employer with 122 staff.

“We’ve got a refurbishment project which is currently stalled for the community health hub,” Mr Parker said.

“As soon as these restrictions are lifted we’ll be into making that project come to fruition.

“Then there’s some activities which will take us to the year’s end – we’ll be playing catch up in terms of building programs, the annual report, the AGM which at this stage will look like it’ll be virtual event likely to be held on December 18.

We’ve also got some changes to our model of care that we are exploring, basically setting the organisation up for the future and supplementing the medical workforce with a nurse practitioner model.

“That will be an innovative model for a service of this size.”

Technology will also play a part to with the My Emergency Doctor virtual telehealth app.

For Mr Parker, who started out in the health service as an accountant in his home town of Terang in 1993, Heywood has been as welcoming an environment as any.

“I’m really positive about small rural health services and that’s been my entire career, working with local communities, staff and volunteers to deliver the absolute best in health and community-based services that genuinely meets community needs,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of messages and congratulations and well-wishes since the announcement was made.”

And the lobbying by staff for him to apply for the top job?

While honoured, Mr Parker preferred to focus on their achievements.

“Staff have absolutely weathered the storm in what has been the most unprecedented year in my 27 years in health care,” he said.

“To their credit they’ve been adaptable, accepting of the changes that have been introduced and going about their business with a smile.

“We’re really mindful of the social and mental health wellbeing impacts that the pandemic’s had on the community and we’re making sure where there’s a need we can help.

I’m very mindful that in rural and regional Victoria health services are generally the largest employer and there’s a lot of community connectedness with their health service, having either been born there or fundraised for it.

“I feel quite honoured and privileged to sit in this seat and deliver on the next chapter of Heywood Rural Health.”