Delight over appointment of Mercy Hospice CEO

 Last Friday afternoon, in a space most often reserved for quiet solitude and professional development, the boardroom of Mercy Hospice Auckland erupted in rousing cheers and applause. Following a stringent recruitment process and several months of deliberation and speculation, staff were delighted to hear that their colleague Lynda Smith, acting CEO, had been appointed permanent CEO.  

Lynda's appointment follows Jan Nichols’departure in June of this year. Lynda is the first to acknowledge the wonderful legacy that Jan has left the organisation following her 19 years of service. (Jan has taken up the position of CEO at Hospice North Shore). Neither is Lynda oblivious to the fact that she has some pretty big shoes to fill. Jan was, in fact, a big part of why Lynda decided to join Mercy Hospice.

“Jan is such an inspirational leader,” says Lynda, “I love that she isn’t afraid to innovate, to do things outside of the box. If it means providing those dealing with a life-limiting illness with a high standard of care, she was, and will no doubt continue to be, the first to say “it can be done” and make it happen.

Lynda, who has been a part of the Hospice team as Nurse Leader for the past two and a half years and acting CEO off and on, credits Jan for leaving Mercy Hospice with some very solid foundations on which the organisation can grow. Like Jan, she believes that Hospice works best with a flat operating structure - where everyone has a stake hold in, and is accountable for, ensuring better care for patients and their families.

“I admire Jan’s leadership style. It fosters collaboration. Because of it, we have such passionate people here and it’s quite contagious. There’s no secret why we have had 100% engagement and been a top ten employer (fourth) for the past two years in the JRA survey.”

Mercy Hospice’s track record is impressive. Often referred to as a leader in specialist palliative care, its services have grown to provide Central Auckland patients and their loved ones with the most current, and very best, support. At any given time, 24 hours of the day, seven days a week, the Hospice cares for more than 260 patients. In the last year alone, 7,984 nurse visits and 1,181 family support visits were made. In the past six years, the charity has opened six Mercy Hospice Shops to help fund its growing needs.

“Just as well” those closest to Hospice’s work might well say. With Auckland’s aging population, the need for Hospice’s essential services, provided free-of-charge, is only expected to increase.

According to General Manager Peter Buckland, Lynda’s appointment could not be more timely. The organisation, a charity largely dependent on the goodwill and generosity of the Auckland public, is about to set its strategic plan for the next five years. 

“A big part of putting my hand up for the CEO role was seeing the potential for where Hospice could go in the future,” says Lynda, “I have a strong sense of what this role means and a desire to drive the vision. With over 70 aged residential care facilities in the Private Auckland District Health Board, I know our organisation has so much more to offer by way of supporting the delivery of high quality palliative care throughout our community.”  

Lynda knows that there are few one-size-fits-all solutions in palliative care and recognises that the number of ways Aucklanders wish to care for and say goodbye to their loved ones is growing and diverse in nature.

“More and more patients are requesting that their final days be spent at home for example,” she says.

Lynda is particularly proud of two new initiatives her nursing team are working on: the “Hospice at Home” and the “A+ Links and Mercy’s Community Nursing Team” projects. Still in their early stages of development, both projects have been trialled with promising results. Lynda is excited about their potential.

“The Hospice at Home project provides ability to introduce specialist palliative care nursing in a person’s home in their last days of life and significantly reduce their need for an acute admission to a public hospital and providing high quality of care during this time.”

“Every case is unique and we place importance on providing care for each individual with compassion, dignity and respect,” says Lynda.

For many Hospice staff members and volunteers Lynda “just gets it”.

“Lynda understands and demonstrates the mission and values of Mercy Hospice,” says Volunteer Co-ordinator Julie Reid, staff member of some 15 years. “It was wonderful to hear her good news on Friday. I couldn’t be any more happier for her!”

When one gleans through Lynda’s CV, it is not difficult to see why she is an obvious ‘fit’ for the top job at Mercy Hospice. With a nursing career spanning 35 years, a business diploma, and having lived and worked in her beloved Auckland all this time, Lynda has undertaken a number of senior nursing roles in the community and acute oncology settings. She has held Clinical Nurse Specialist roles at Auckland District Health Board and was Manager of Support and Information Services at the Auckland Cancer Society. In her incumbent role as Nursing Team Leader at Hospice, Lynda has been responsible for a team of 50 nurses including the inpatient team, community team, as well as education and nursing specialist teams.

“We nurses are passionate about high quality palliative care,” she says, “I love working with the nursing team but I’m also excited about working with the wider clinical team and the support teams which provide the infrastructure to our organisation.”    

Lynda knows first hand what it is like to lose a loved one and what’s required to get through the tough times. Her first nursing job was with the oncology unit - Ward 9B at Auckland Hospital. Sadly her father Stuart died of secondary cancer from a melanoma at just 49 years of age, not long after Lynda started nursing there.

“From this experience I have a great appreciation of the difference high-quality palliative care can make for someone in their last days,” she says.

Lynda’s time on the Oncology ward also meant she would frequently come in contact with Sister Margaret Timms, now retired.  Sister Margaret was instrumental in the establishment of Mercy Hospice some 33 years ago and was influential in Lynda’s decision to specialise in palliative care.

Peter Buckland says that in the short time Lynda has been with Hospice she has more than proven that she is capable of doing great things citing amongst other achievements her restructuring of the nursing team to provide the quality of care needed for people with complex medical, emotional and social issues.

“Lynda’s sound background in palliative care services and her experience with the various health sector networks in the Auckland DHB area are impressive as are her personal attributes,” Peter says, “Lynda is such an asset to the Mercy Hospice team. We are all the more richer for having her accept this crucial leadership role.” 

“As one of the leading Hospices in New Zealand and with an international reputation for excellence in care, Lynda has a challenging position to uphold and further develop Mercy Hospice,” he says, “however, she has the support of the Mercy Hospice Team, the confidence of the board and the blessing of the Sisters of Mercy Congregation to surround her in the task.”

Never one to blow her own trumpet, Lynda is humbled and feels “honoured” to lead the team at Mercy Hospice Auckland. Lynda acknowledges that she couldn’t take on this role without the support of her husband Graeme, a qualified counsellor and facilitator, who gladly keeps their home life steady with their nine year old son Reuben, while Mum fulfils her “dream role” at Mercy Hospice Auckland.  

Lynda’s new job as CEO begins immediately with an official welcome from the team set for 30th August. 

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