Nigel Murray says he is excited at the prospect of joining Waikato District Health Board (DHB) as its new chief executive later next month.
Board chair Bob Simcock today made the announcement to staff that Dr Murray, until recently the president and CEO at Fraser Health Authority in Canada, will take over from Craig Climo on Monday July 21.
It will be a return home to New Zealand and specifically to the Waikato for the 59-year-old former physician and NZ Army officer. His family have dairy farmed in the Walton district since the late 1880s and his father, a retired cardiologist, still lives there today.
“I went to Walton Primary School and have so many fond memories of playing rugby in the paddock down there. My mother and her cousins all went to the same school,” he said today in Hamilton where he met with the board and the DHB’s Executive Group.
Dr Murray has a clear idea of what lies ahead for him. Mr Simcock commissioned a report from the Ministry of Health which was published on the DHB’s website last month.
The document called ‘Review of opportunities for the incoming chief executive” noted that a $500 million 10-year building project was nearing an end and that the challenges ahead lay in how to work in the new buildings to deliver the best possible care to patients and the communities the DHB serves.
“I have known this DHB for a long time as a public physician. I used to bring patients here when I was working in the military and I know it well.
It’s gone from strength to strength.”
– Nigel Murray
“It is a very useful document (for me); a lot of people put a lot of effort into it. There are lots of helpful ideas and expressions from staff. The thing that stood out for me was the effort everyone put into feeding back to the reviewers,” said Dr Murray.
Publishing the report in its entirety for everyone to read was a good move, he said.
“I’m a very strong advocate of transparency and the more you are open and declare what you’re doing and your challenges, the better.
“As baby boomers like me flow through the system, we are going to demand more and more services.”
– Nigel Murray
“It is always hard to read about yourself in a report, it is better if the public think you are transparent about your challenges.
“It would be premature of me to make a judgement call on any of it but there are lots of opportunities identified there.
“The thing that strikes me though is the successes this district health board has had.
“I have known this DHB for a long time as a public physician. I used to bring patients here when I was working in the military and I know it well. It’s gone from strength to strength.
“Look at the wonderful investment that the organisation has made (in its building programme) and we’re now ready for the next step of refining and fine tuning and enhancing performance. Every DHB wants to enhance their performance and this is a great opportunity to do so here at Waikato.”
The father of four – two sons, two daughters – has been with Fraser Health since October 2007. Prior to that he was CEO at Southland DHB and held management positions at Auckland DHB.
But it was his time in the New Zealand Army where Dr Murray made a significant mark.
“As a board we want to use our limited resources to care for our community.
We are convinced that Dr Murray can help us do that.”
– Bob Simcock
Prior to joining the army, he practised in New Zealand. While in the Army he graduated with a Masters of Occupational Medicine at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
He worked with the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq where he was responsible for establishing and maintaining health and safety systems towards the end of the first Gulf War.
His work involved ensuring the safety of diplomats and health officials who decommissioned Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
From there it was onto Bosnia where his job was to rebuild a health system following the Civil War there. “Civil wars like that are horrendous. They were neighbours and that was the tragedy.
“He has the toughest job in British Columbia health, he has outlasted all of the other CEOs and he has done a good job.”
“It was great to be able to serve my country in those conflicts,” he said. He was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 1995 for services to health in the NZ Defence Force.
“A lot of people may have an assumption that because you are in the military in a leadership role, it is all about command and control.
“The best military commanders I ever had didn’t operate like that.
“They were about engagement, making sure that people felt part of an organisation no matter what the mission or task was and felt included.
“That sounds strange in a military environment but those rudimentary facts of leadership are translatable to many many environments.
“You do learn about leadership in the military and when you move on, you take that with you.”
Dr Murray is very proud of the innovativeness of Kiwis.
“We‘ve had to be over the decades. Having served in healthcare systems around the world, I believe strongly in our system. We have the right balance with universal benefits for all citizens. In other countries, that isn’t necessarily the case. The fabric of our system is fabulous.”
Canada and New Zealand have very similar health systems.
“I have worked in the US which is profoundly different and a lot of people slip through the cracks. We need to be vigilant here and make sure we provide equitable services right through, not just hospitals and emergency departments but in public health, primary care, Maori health and other groups that need special attention.”
“I found him sincere, direct, and very committed to quality, and on a physician to physician basis, a very capable, impressive and passionate leader.”
The kind of health issues Waikato can expect are a challenge right through the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries.
“As baby boomers like me flow through the system, we are going to demand more and more services.
“How do we make sure we provide services to prevent people going to the emergency department or into our hospitals?
“If you can avoid a hospital, that’s got to be good,” he said.
“A hospital based programme can’t be successful without integration with primary care.’
He is keen to get out and meet staff and health professionals throughout the DHB.
“I’ve always enjoyed a mixture of urban health care systems and rural. People can be reassured that as a health care leader, I am really interested in rural health care as much as the urban environment.
“If your rural programmes are not meeting the needs locally or people don’t have the right access to transport and communications – telemedicine or whatever, then those communities can feel isolated.”
“He is a superb and inspirational leader.”
Taumarunui could well be the first place on his visiting list as Dr Murray is a keen skier and Mt Ruapehu “isn’t that far away.”
Mr Simcock said the board was certain Dr Murray was the best person for the job.
“All of the people we have spoken to in Auckland, Southland, and Canada have told us that Dr Murray is a high performing chief executive and an outstanding leader.
“As a board we want to use our limited resources to care for our community. We are convinced that Dr Murray can help us do that,” said Mr Simcock.
Mr Climo leaves Waikato DHB on Friday July 18.
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