Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason has announced that after more than two decades working her way up the ranks in the organisation, she will spread her wings and embark on a new adventure. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell sat down with Mason to reflect on her time in the job and find out where she's heading next.
"I hope that I leave behind an organisation that is in good heart."
That's the wish of outgoing Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason for when she leaves the role at the end of the year.
She resigned last week after 21 years and eight roles at the DHB, including nearly four years in the chief executive's seat.
Mason will be jetting to Australia with her husband, Tauranga City Councillor Max Mason, where she will take up a senior position with the Victoria Government.
She said the new position, the executive director of health systems, policy and commissioning in the Department of Health and Human Services, is described as the chief operating officer for the Victorian health system. She will oversee the healthcare of 6.4 million people.
Despite having reached the upper echelon at the DHB, Mason is modest when speaking of her role.
"We've got 3500 staff and I think some of the work our team members do is more challenging," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"I think it's more challenging delivering direct patient care, you know, being the doctor, the nurse, the orderly."
Learning to listen was one of the most important of the many skills she had picked up during her time as chief executive.
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"There are a huge number of people out there and you shouldn't be expecting the great ideas to be coming from the chief executive."
She also felt bravery was important to push through big-picture changes to the system.
"There is a saying that when you're trying to make changes in public health services and everyone is happy, you're not trying hard enough.
"But provided you've got a solid evidence base and you're doing the right thing, you need to keep on that path.
"I think constancy of purpose is important. I think it's easy to get distracted by the next big shiny things that come along."
Mason grew up in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) and lived in the United Kingdom before moving to New Zealand 24 years ago with her husband.
The nurse and midwife first worked at a resthome in Tauranga before getting a job at Tauranga Hospital.
Among the more memorable challenges in the last four years were navigating the nurses' pay negotiations.
She also pointed to the Edgecumbe flooding as a hurdle to navigate.
"We had a community that had lost their homes and was really needing support. Staff members were also affected," she said.
She said she was proud to see the "significant progress" the DHB had made in improving the workplace culture, staff engagement and Māori health services during her time.
She believed people underestimated the "huge raft" of services that the DHB funded other than the hospitals.
Of the over $800 million of funding that was allocated for the current year, half went to the Tauranga and Whakatāne Hospitals.
The other $400 went to a huge range of services, from funded aged residential care, subsided pharmacy medicine and GP visits, various NGOs and kaupapa Māori services.
When it came to her work-life balance, she aimed to start the day with exercise, either with a 45-minute run or, if the emails were piled up, she would jump on the stationary exercycle and workout as she worked.
She said it was up to each person to manage their work-life balance so that boundaries were set.
"I try to have an end of the day and not let work seep into every hour of the day and night."
She said she and her husband felt strongly that Tauranga was their tūrangawaewae- their place to stand - and they would return at some point.
She said whoever would step into the role would be "very lucky" to inherit a great team, both the executive and the wider DHB staff.
While DHBs around the country were facing "financial challenges", Mason said the Bay of Plenty was one of the better-performing DHBs and she believed the challenge for the new chief executive lay in best allocating the "huge resource" to achieve the best outcomes for the population.
Mason will take up her new position in mid-November this year and said a new chief executive would not be decided until after the DHB elections.