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The working life of a hospice CEO

Author: Stevan Jackson
21 July 2017

Stevan Jackson is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Mary Stevens Hospice Group in the West Midlands. Here he tells us how he united the group's internal teams and is preparing to oversee a £3 million upgrade to the hospice's facilities.

I did not have the smoothest start on my journey to where I am now.  It may not have been a unique experience for a youth from the Ladybrook Estate, and it was entirely of my own making that I was an educational failure, homeless, jobless, with occasional convictions at Mansfield Magistrates Court. 

How I subsequently turned my life around has been an extraordinary adventure involving working as a coal miner, joining the Royal Navy and achieving promotion from Ordinary Seaman to Captain and working with Service Chiefs and Ministers in the MOD, leading expeditions to climb the hardest routes on the world’s highest mountains, becoming a published author, managing the Royal British Legion’s largest ever grant (£50 million) to a single charitable project, recruitment as Group CEO of Mary Stevens Hospice in the West Midlands and achieving academic status as a university lecturer.  But that story is for another day.

In 2013 the hospice’s board decided to appoint their first full-time Group CEO (of the hospice plus trading subsidiaries). Then, I was searching for a new, challenging role, and with a background in healthcare leadership and the charity sector I thought this could be a good opportunity.  I was interviewed by a panel of eight trustees plus two other hospice CEOs – it was a tight squeeze to fit everyone in the room.  The second interview saw the panel reduced to five trustees and one CEO, still difficult to maintain eye contact, but I got the job.

I now lead the charity that employs 200 staff supported by 500 volunteers.  We have 10 bed Inpatient Units and day services for 85 patients weekly for the benefit of those who live with progressive, incurable, life-shortening conditions in the Dudley Metropolitan Borough. 

When I arrived in September 2013, I could see why trustees had focussed on how I would improve internal co-operation and communication within the group.  I observed the tension between trustees and the Senior Management Team - now known as the Executive Board (EB) - as well as some significant tensions between EB members.  My priorities were to get them all pulling in the same direction, improve relations with trustees, and change the culture of the hospice.   

It has taken three years of hard work, and some significant personnel changes, to get the EB to a position where I think we are now a really cohesive team, able to effectively challenge each other without rancour.  Key to this have been frequent 1:1 meetings where we work together to identify coming challenges and agree how we will deal with them. After a lifetime of working in teams, this is now the best team I have worked in.

During my first year here I exercised oversight of a £1 million refurbishment of the In Patient Unit, which took longer than planned but finished within budget and to a high specification. The design won two RIBA awards for our architects, KKE.  It also provided us with new, first floor accommodation which we subsequently utilised for the Dudley Macmillan Specialist Care at Home team.  This team is a collaboration between us, Macmillan and Dudley NHS Foundation Trust that is having a huge impact in preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital and has helped large numbers of people die in their preferred place of care. 

Since the hospice opened 26 years ago, the number of day patient attendances has increased dramatically. In the last 10 years alone attendances have almost doubled, and we expect the numbers to continue rising and complexity of conditions to increase.

Trustees have decided that the most effective way of coping with this ever-increasing demand is to refurbish, extend and future-proof our day unit to increase capacity by up to 87 per cent.   For the next 12 months I will oversee a £3 million project which will involve:

  • Refurbishing the Day Unit to create the Bradbury Wellness Centre with counselling and consulting rooms, a blood transfusion suite, and improved complimentary therapy, spa treatment and bath rooms.
  • Improved bereavement counselling services, including for children – for whom no such service exists in the borough.
  • New multi-faith space for worship.
  • New overnight family accommodation to allow families to remain overnight at critical times.
  • New training, education and research facilities.

This has been a business-like view of the hospice, which is probably what you expect from a CEO.  So I will finish with a quote from our comments book which brings to life the real value of the hospice to the community we are proud to serve:

“What a truly peaceful and caring environment to spend your last days. My dear husband R… could not have received better care and support.  Everyone from volunteers, cooks, health care workers, nurses and senior staff made sure he had a peaceful and dignified end. Words cannot express enough gratitude.”

For more information visit Mary Stevens Hospice

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