‘New chapter’: Wide Bay health chief ready for the fight
DEBBIE Carroll is no stranger to a challenge.
Throughout her 40-year career, the new Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service CEO has been on the frontline of the nation’s response to major global health crises including SARS.
She takes on the top job in the midst of another virus emergency – the likes of which she has not seen before.
“I have been in health for a long time. I’ve been through SARS and other pandemics but nothing at this scale that’s so global and widespread,” Ms Carroll said.
“This one will last for a long time.”
Still, the seasoned health professional, who started her career as a nurse in 1981, is up for the fight.
She told the Chronicle the principles for taking on coronavirus were the same as when dealing with any health challenge.
Keep communication open, be agile and adaptable and make sure everyone knows and does their job.
Above all, she said, build a strong team and rely on it.
It’s an approach she took when dealing with arguably her most high profile challenge.
Ms Carroll took over as acting CEO following the shock sacking of Adrian Pennington in September last year.
The interim appointment placed her at the centre of a saga that made headlines for months and led to the resignation of two board members.
Ms Carroll has proved to be a steadying force in that time, quietly and capably leading the health service through a period of upheaval.
She has overseen, among other things, the opening of Maryborough Hospital’s $14 million emergency department upgrade and the establishment of fever clinics to combat COVID-19.
Her official appointment as CEO, she said, represented a new chapter for the health service.
Ms Carroll’s approach and leadership style may be different to Mr Pennington’s but she said the health service’s goals would remain the same under her guidance.
These include a commitment to patient care and reducing wait times.
“It is about building on the work we have done and it takes a whole team,” she said.
“My approach is very consultative, it involves listening.
“I’m excited. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
While she has been in executive roles for the past six years, having served as the health service chief operating officer from 2014, Ms Carroll still considers herself a nurse and her registration remains current.
Her clinical knowledge, combined with her administrative know-how, gives her a unique perspective on the hospital system.
“What drives me is connecting with the patients,” Ms Carroll said.
“I still do walk arounds and meet with patients. I’ve got the clinical knowledge so it’s certainly an advantage to have a nursing background.
“I know the HHS and the service needs and challenges. “There’s always challenges in the health space.”
Looking ahead, Ms Carroll said key developments on the horizon included the new mental health unit at Hervey Bay which she described as “an exciting next phase” for the city’s hospital.
It’s a hospital that will soon lose one of its strongest advocates in Hervey Bay MP Ted Sorensen, who announced he would retire at the upcoming state election.
Ms Carroll said whoever filled Mr Sorensen’s seat, regardless of political persuasion, she was committed to working with them.
“It’s important to have good relationships with our government members,” she said.
“What we all want is what’s best for our community.”