Following three months as interim chief executive officer at Orbost Regional Health (ORH), Vicki Farthing took on the role officially on May 13 and is excited to be a part of setting a positive future for the district’s key health service provider.
“I’m back again,” Vicki said, referring to the return to East Gippsland by her and her husband, Geoff; Vicki having worked for a number of years at Bairnsdale Regional Health Service.
Vicki worked at the Bairnsdale hospital from 2004 until 2011, as operations manager and then director of nursing, before moving to Domain Aged Care, also in Bairnsdale, where she worked for two years. She left East Gippsland in early 2014, headed for South Gippsland where for five years she was executive director of nursing at Gippsland Southern Health Service.
Vicki trained as a nurse at what was then West Gippsland Hospital. With many years of hands-on nursing under her belt, she moved into management roles in the early 1990s.
She says her strong clinical nursing background stands her in good stead as she takes on the ORH CEO position.
“I don’t have hands-on now, but having that clinical knowledge is really handy to understand how a health service works and what the priorities are,” Vicki said.
“It’s not all about money; it’s about customers and our consumers and how we can provide the best care, so having that clinical knowledge helps. I think the department (Department of Health and Human Services) has recognised that, that it’s not accountants that they need sitting in CEO roles. There seems to be a shift to having more clinical people in management roles.”
While she has been off the wards for around three decades, Vicki’s nursing abilities have never been far from her day-to-day workings.
“When I went into managerial roles I still had a lot to do with patient coordination, so I was still involved but not actually working directly with the patients and providing the care,” Vicki said.
“I do miss aspects of the hands-on nursing. I miss the communication, talking to people and finding out their stories. I like being able to look at things from a much bigger perspective as well, being able to find the solutions to problems, and following those solutions through.
“I’ve been able to influence others, and I’ve had probably a fortuitous journey, being exposed to a lot of different projects along the way, different opportunities.”
Prior to her time at BRHS Vicki was working at Warragul where she was project manager for one of the hospital’s major building redevelopments.
“Being involved in that project gave me a lot of knowledge around building and the intricacies of building the clinical aspects, working closely with the architects. I was grateful for that opportunity. It opened up a lot of doors for me and broadened my knowledge, as well as being able to be a business manager for aged care and a HR manager for the nursing.”
Having come to Orbost from a similarly sized community in South Gippsland, Vicki is enjoying the strong community aspect of Orbost.
“We initially moved back west to be closer to our children who all live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, because we were spending a lot of time on the road, thinking if we moved closer maybe we’d see them a bit more. That hasn’t transpired,” she laughs.
“My husband and I both love East Gippsland, so we made the decision that we’d go where we want to go and if they want to come they’ll come.”
Geoff, however, is yet to relocate east. As a builder he is finalising jobs, including renovating their own home ready for sale.
“I’m hoping he’ll move here within the next couple of months,” Vicki said.
“There’s quite a bit of commuting at the moment and we try to take it in turns as to who drives which way.”
So what does the new ORH CEO have in store for the health services of Orbost?
“I’ve got a five year contract and I have every intention of fulfilling that contract,” Vicki said. “I haven’t got any plans of moving on, using it as a stepping stone, and I’m here to do what it is I need to do.
“We’re just starting work on our master plan to look at the building infrastructure and how we develop Orbost looking into the future and the services that need to be provided, particularly with aged care.
“In many ways it is an isolated community in Orbost and it relies heavily on the health service, so we need to make sure we are here to provide that in the best way possible into the future. If we’re not here, where do they get that care from?
“We don’t want people to have to go to Bairnsdale, which is an inconvenience, and Bairnsdale has enough of its own patients.
“I think that’s exciting, starting on that master plan and being here in the beginning of that. We’ve got a fairly new team, though Jo (Marshall – director clinical and aged care services) has been here a while now, Louise (McCarthy), the director of primary and community health, is also new, starting around the same time as me, so it’s good to have some new people here with fresh eyes.
“It’s not just us doing it. We’ve got state level departments working with us on the project. There’s no guarantee of funding, but once we’ve got that master plan, the feasibility plan, all in place with what’s best for the Orbost community we can work from that when funding does become available.
“It’s nice to get my teeth into something straight away, and it enlivens staff when you’ve got something exciting like that happening because they can see that there’s a good future for Orbost as well.”
Vicki and Geoff are looking forward to their new life back in East Gippsland.
“My husband used to holiday a lot when he was a child in Lakes Entrance, but I didn’t have much experience here apart from an uncle in Eagle Point who I visited on a few occasions, though I had little perception of Eagle Point beyond the road near the golf club there. I didn’t really realise there was an Eagle Point community beyond that,” Vicki laughs.
“When we came looking to move this way we found the rest of Eagle Point and loved it,” Vicki said.
Eagle Point is where she and Geoff will establish their new home.
“I never get sick of waking up in the morning and watching the sun rise over the lake. It’s just beautiful,” she said.
Vicki commutes the hour or more each day to Orbost, but says she does not mind the drive.
“It’s a good road, so the commute doesn’t bother me at all, and I’m used to travelling distances from my previous roles,” she said.
“It’s lovely seeing the country green up with recent rain and how much it changes and how much more vibrant it looks. It gives hope to everybody.”
With the Orbost region, its farmers and indirectly the community itself, still hoping for more rain and growth to alleviate the drought, Vicki says ORH has a big part to play.
“There’s a program that’s been running here called Stand by your Farmer, and there’s been a lot of work done by my predecessor on working with the farmers and providing services, which we’ll continue,” Vicki said.
“We’re working closely with a Drought Mental Health and Wellbeing group that I’m part of that meets with the Department of Health and Human Services, and that’s quite well-funded to roll out programs to assist farmers, providing support and services to the farming community.
“It’s another way we are a part of the community. It’s an immediate need and that’s what we’re here for.”
Vicki enjoys working in the smaller regional health services.
“It’s nice having the close supportive community that really has some ownership of their health service. They’re really invested in how things work here. I don’t feel you get that in the bigger hospitals; they can be a bit disenfranchised with it,” she said.
“It’s nice that people feel they can come and talk to you.”
Vicki also likes the connection ORH has with the community through such events as last week’s National Reconciliation Week morning tea to recognise and celebrate the growing relationship between ORH and Moogji Aboriginal Council East Gippsland, a recent luncheon to acknowledge the dedication of their volunteers, and a biggest morning tea last Thursday to support Cancer Council’s annual fundraiser.
“There is a whole range of different things we do to stay linked in with our community,” she said.
Venturing even further into the community, Vicki said she is happy to visit local clubs and groups to chat with them about various topics.
“I’m happy to visit or speak with community groups; I’d really like to get around to as many as possible over the time that I’m here and get to know as many people as possible,” she said.
“Also get to know what their health needs are, because that helps me plan into the future, finding out what the services are that the community needs.
“The whole purpose of the multi-purpose service that is Orbost Regional Health is to provide the needs of the community.
“If any groups would like to contact me, let me know when their meetings are, I’d be more than happy to come along and have a chat.”
PICTURED: Officially installed as the new chief executive officer for Orbost Regional Health on May 13, Vicki Farthing is looking forward to being a part of a bright future for the heath service.