Gavin King

Tropic Now editor

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Profile: Cairns Private Hospital CEO talks balance, growth and good health


TropicNow sits down with Cairns Private Hospital CEO Ben Tooth for a conversation about local health care and a healthy work-life balance.

Ben Tooth is a busy man, to put it mildly.

Apart from running an organisation with more than 560 employees and 100 specialists in the complex arena of health and hospital care, he also sits on the board of Cairns Penny and is a committee member of the North Queensland Primary Healthcare Network.

On top of those career responsibilities, he is also the proud father of two young children alongside his equally busy wife who works full-time in the legal profession. This juggling act of life requires focus, balance and, according to Ben, not burning the house down.

“We try to juggle the demands of family life and full-time work as best we can,” Ben tells TropicNow. “That is by keeping the kids alive and preventing the house from burning down.”

Jokes aside, Ben has a unique take on the popular notion of work-life balance. “Rather than aim for work-life balance, I try to be focused and be fully present when either at work or with the family.”

Being fully present in the moment rather than attempting multiple tasks at once is an important distinction for Ben as he approaches the six-month mark in the role of CEO at one of the city’s largest organisations. Cairns Private Hospital continues to grow and expand its service offering, playing a crucial dual role in both local health care delivery and the economy.

Tropic: You’ve been in the role of CEO for nearly six months. Are you enjoying it?
Ben Tooth:
I’m enjoying the role immensely and the broader responsibilities that come with it. As you would expect the focus has now shifted to setting the objectives for our services and driving the vision for the entire organisation rather than focusing on non-clinical aspects as I did in my previous role as Commercial Manager. We have a brilliant team of clinicians and managers across our facilities and I feel completely supported by them. In total, there are over 560 employees and over 100 specialists associated at our facilities in Cairns.
Health technology is constantly evolving, such as the robotic surgery capabilities Cairns Private now offers to patients.

How do you find the balance between being at the leading edge of technology while also maintaining the highest level of safe care for patients?
We are genuine about ensuring we have leading edge technology within our clinical capabilities. Typically, like the surgical robot, other Ramsay Health Care sites in the bigger cities have the technology prior to the regional centres. Being part of the largest private hospital operator in Australia allows us to learn from the experiences in other hospitals and gain the support of our sister facilities down south so that we can balance fast-paced technological changes as well as maintain high levels of care. We ensure that we have strict procedures around safety in all aspects of our patient care, including for any new services or health technology.

You have previously spoken about focusing on mental health services after you took on the role of CEO – what would you like to see happen in this space?
The Cairns Clinic is the only private mental health facility in Cairns - and it’s a hidden gem. In the past, the Cairns Clinic has faced challenges in keeping up with the growing demands of the community. I would like to see the Cairns Clinic meeting the mental health needs of our community. To do that, we have recently employed a full-time psychiatrist and also a psychiatric registrar. These recruitments have added significant capacity to the Facility and it means the Cairns Clinic has been able to reopen a second ward. We have also started offering additional day programs for mood disorders and anxiety, which has increased the scope of private mental health services for Cairns.

You sit on the board of Cairns Penny and have previously been on the board of Regional Development Australia Far North Qld Torres Strait. Why did you choose those particular organisations to be involved with?
I enjoy being part of Cairns Penny for a number of reasons: it is a customer-owned bank, owned by the people of Far North Queensland. The Penny Bank has been around for over 100 years and it is also the only financial institution with a head office in Cairns.
I recently finished a term on the board of RDAFNQTS and I enjoyed being part of the organisation’s role to advocate for economic development and progress in our region. Whilst I am originally from New South Wales, I am passionate about the Cairns and Far North Queensland community that has been my home for 15 years. And for many more years to come, I hope.

What are the key areas of focus for you and the hospital over the next 12 months?
It is an exciting time for the hospital as we are growing our services. Within 12 months, we will open an afterhours GP clinic. I hear a lot of feedback from the community requesting a private emergency department. This is something I would love to see happen one day, however it is not the focus at the moment. The priority focus is opening an afterhours clinic in 2019 which will allow people to access the hospital services directly after hours. The demand and support for this service will assist us when considering an emergency department in the future.
It is my goal to also open an Intensive Care Unit. Whilst still in the planning phase, the aim of an Intensive Care Unit at Cairns Private Hospital will be to provide private patients with more options for care.
As well as these initiatives, we will be finalising the master plan for our facilities Cairns Private Hospital, Cairns Day Surgery and The Cairns Clinic. The master plan will look at what facility requirements we need to meet the growing demands of the region – such as the number of operating theatres and bed capacity. I expect this to be completed in the next three months and I look forward to announcing our longer-term plans once the master plan is completed.