Central Otago Health Services CEO retires

Central Otago Health Services Ltd chief executive Kathy de Luc retired last week. PHOTO: SHANNON...
Central Otago Health Services Ltd chief executive Kathy de Luc retired last week. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON
After a career spanning four decades, Kathy de Luc has called time on the health sector.

Dr de Luc retired from her role last week as Central Otago Health Services Ltd (COHSL) chief executive after four and a-half years.

Originally from the United Kingdom, she moved to Central Otago from Auckland for the role in 2019.

COHSL is a community-owned, not-for-profit company which is responsible for providing health services out of Dunstan Hospital, in Clyde.

Its base funding comes primarily from Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand Southern (HNZ) - previously the Southern District Health Board - as well from private contracts, and is charged with meeting a wide range of health needs of the 25,000 people in Central Otago and the Lakes district.

A passionate advocate for the rural health sector, Dr de Luc said it was a difficult decision to leave, but the timing was right for her to retire. She would still be based in Alexandra but was looking forward to better work-life balance and the chance to travel.

Dr de Luc’s tenure saw her juggle the needs of the community-owned health organisation amidst a region-wide population boom, the Covid-19 global pandemic and the centralisation of the nation’s district health boards into a single entity, HNZ.

In the past six years, demand for COHSL’s services has increased - palliative care contacts have risen 129%; chemotherapy and non-cancer-related infusions 52%; radiology CT 30% and district nursing contacts 26%.

Despite the challenges, there were many things she was proud of during her time at Dunstan, Dr de Luc said.

The spirit of Dunstan was "strong" and there was a tangible sense of community.

"That’s the thing people often say to me is you feel the atmosphere as you walk inside the door because it’s a community; it’s a community hospital and it’s very clear about what it is to serve its community."

Reflecting on her work, two things stood out for Dr de Luc - the organisation’s response to Covid-19; and implementing a more culturally responsive service.

COHSL now had a hākui (elder woman) with a formal role to provide cultural guidance to the health provider to help ensure it was delivering a culturally responsive service for all the region’s population.

"For example, how we ask certain questions around ethnicity etc ... Coming to hospital and within community services, it’s a stressful time - usually people are upset or stressed and we want to make it as comfortable for people as we possibly can," Dr de Luc said.

"I’m just really pleased at how the whole team has responded to that ... It’s a journey and we’ll continue developing it."

The Covid-19 pandemic had impacted the region and she was proud of organisations’ response to Covid for the whole community.

"The team within Dunstan and the community service, the response was just amazing from them all - looking after everyone’s wellbeing, they just kept going. That’s what we focused on to get the job done," she said.

However, with Covid still active in the community, the work was not over, she said.

"We’ve still got Covid patients coming in and [we are] having to adapt and deal with that - it’s ongoing. It’s definitely there putting pressure on our health services and everyone."

Covid had also taken focus from what she felt was an issue when she first came in to the role in 2019 - the need for a long-term plan addressing the delivery of rural health services in Central Otago.

"That is still sitting there as, I believe, a significant issue that needs to be addressed," she said.

With the move from the DHB model to a national health body, development of a region-wide plan sat with HNZ.

"We are unclear about what model we need to be developing and moving to and the end - what we’re trying to get to - and I stress, that isn’t just about Dunstan, we could make our own decisions about the model but you can’t do that without primary care, without the hospice, without St John, without understanding what the new Dunedin hospital is going to do."

COHSL’s new chief executive starts at the end of August.