Kirstin Nicholson, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
The Cohuna District Hospital has a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and she is excited to be here. Bernadette Loughnane was appointed as the CEO for a term of three years, commencing on April 19, replacing the interim CEO, Greg Pullen.
Moving from Ireland 30 years ago, Bernadette comes to us from Kingscliff on the northern New South Wales (NSW) coast where she has lived for eight years. This is her first foray into Victoria and the Victorian health system, and she is looking forward to the challenges that brings.
Bernadette comes well versed, beginning her career in nursing and midwifery and spending 10 years in middle management at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and the last 10 years in senior management and executive roles in both NSW and Queensland.
“This is my first time in a CEO position. It’s my first time reporting directly to a board and it’s my first time in Victorian health. I’m very open about those three gaps so there’s a real stretch in it for me,” Bernadette said.
“I have a special interest in the work that’s gone on in Victorian health, particularly around the ‘Safer Care Victoria’, and I think that’s moving all of us in a much better and safer direction. Also, I like that the governing bodies are really local. They know their patients, they know their people and they know the community needs. And then they hold us to account to deliver it.
“There’s a really good relationship between the hospital and the board, and the board and DHS. Interconnecting all of that is the close network with all of the CEOs. That really good connection has helped us with moving patients from one hospital to another for higher level care or lower level care or appropriate level care. So, that connectivity is important.”
Having been in the job less than a month, Bernadette has pinpointed staff wellbeing as one of her main focusses, particularly after the year we have had. “If we look after our staff, they’re well empowered to take better care of our patients. Staff wellbeing is important, particularly in a local community because they stay here for longer, so you’ve got longevity. We have a lot of staff that carry multiple portfolios, so they’re very skilled. It’s also about how that leads into a sustainable workforce for the future.”
She lists the redevelopment of the theatre precinct as another of her main focusses, which she believes will be one of the biggest projects Cohuna has ever faced. Having experience in development planning from her time in NSW, she is not daunted by the size or duration of the project, although she believes it may be difficult getting contractors post COVID-19.
The delay will give the hospital an opportunity to engage with the community, showcase the floor plans and to get the community’s input. Once the upgrade is complete, the theatre will be opened up to the public so they can see where the money has gone, and see what a theatre looks like – because, after all, as Bernadette points out, patients don’t usually get to see the theatre when they are having a procedure!
Following Dr Peter Barker’s retirement from obstetrics in April, women cannot birth at the hospital. Bernadette explains that mothers can still receive their antenatal care here, birth in Echuca and if appropriate, return to CDH hours later for postnatal care.
Bernadette says there are many different pathways. “Do we continue a similar model if we can get the workforce, or do we go to a contemporary midwifery-led model similar to other centres across Victoria? We’ll keep it what it is at the moment, but I’m committed to exploring all opportunities. I don’t want to predict where it’s going to end up. We’ll get everybody’s input into it and have a safe landing pad.”
Theatres of the non-hospital kind are Bernadette’s passion; she loves nothing more than to attend theatre performances and escape from the world. Her other passions are the Australian Open, reading and art in health. She believes that art in health settings is important for both patients and staff, and is impressed with the collection on display at our hospital.
Bernadette has wasted no time getting to know the locals, already signing up to yoga classes, discovering the walking tracks on her daily 5km walks, and she knows where to find good coffee.
“Everyone has been extremely professional, warm and welcoming, and reached out, both in the hospital and the community. I’ve been to yoga classes already. I go to the shops and people know me, and the coffee shops know me. I grew up in a small town and it takes a village to raise a child. I believe in that. I don’t think I could be the CEO without living locally.”
She’s ambitious and with the guidance of the hospital’s strategic plan, knows which direction she and the hospital are headed. With her experience and passion, Bernadette will make a great addition to our hospital and community. Welcome to Cohuna, Bernadette.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 13 May 2021.