LRH’s chief calls time

Calling it a day: Latrobe Regional Hospital chief executive Peter Craighead retired last week. photograph supplied.

Zac Standish

One of the Latrobe Valley’s most influential figures has ventured into retirement.

Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) chief executive officer Peter Craighead had his final day in the role on Friday.

Coming from the Central Gippsland Health Service in Sale in 2008, Mr Craighead arrived with LRH more than $5 million in debt and was tasked with the job of leading it out of significant financial strife.

Since then, he has seen it all when it comes to local health crises and along with his dedicated team of support workers has built the hospital into one of regional Victoria’s most accomplished health care facilities.

Speaking with The Express, he detailed the situation that faced him upon arriving at the LRH.

“I am fortunate enough to have been a CEO in Gippsland since 1989. I started in Yarram and moved to Sale in 2004 (to work at the Central Gippsland Health Service) before in 2008 joining the LRH – and when I first started we were in a bit of strife,” Mr Craighead said.

“(We were) facing a $5 million deficit and a host of different challenges with the hospital holding a privatised/public model.

“The company had handed it back, making things when I started in 2008, pretty difficult.

“We had to make some tough decisions to rein in expenditure and we managed to do it as a team, and have a significant turnaround.

“We have managed to transform the organisation from the smallest regional hospital in Victoria to now being Gippsland biggest employer.”

Mr Craighead described how he went about starting the rebuilding phase, calling on some of the lessons he had learnt over his time in Sale.

“Because I had been in Sale when they were in a similar situation I knew how we had to rein in costs and make sure we were spending no more than we were earning and really look at what we could do with our money,” he said.

“I needed to communicate well with people, explain why I was doing things and be confident in the decisions that I was making.

“I had a saying – ‘my job is to equally disadvantage everyone’ – which was a mantra I had to take in turning things around.”

He said the sense of community in the Valley and the work of the team around him made the rebuilding job a lot easier.

“The Valley had been through some tough times and some challenges, but they are a very good community and what I noticed when I first got here is that there are some very good people here and it was about being part of the organisation,” he said.

“I remember when I first started walking around the place and talking to people and one of the theatre orderlies said to me ‘Peter I think I have seen you more times in the last seven weeks than the last CEO in the last seven years’ and I said get used to it – so you have to be visible, you have to be there and I have been very well supportedby government, my boards and the entire LRH family.”

With an excellent team behind him, Mr Craighead quickly went about changing things for the better and turning the LRH into the organisation we see today.

He outlined some of the work he is most proud of over the journey along with some of the obstacles he and his support network have had to overcome.

“Over the time we have managed to get money for the cancer centre, we did our allied health rehabilitation centre, we built another baby unit and expanded our mental health services,” he said.

“We were also very fortunate to get the election commitment around Stage 2A and that was building the new emergency department, theatres and new wards.

“We have managed to build 36 new consulting suites, expanded our radiology and cancer services, getting support for people in the community in the form of an MRI scanner and PET scanner which has provided accelerated services so there is certainly a lot for my team to be proud of.”

Being at the helm for more than a decade, he has also been dealt a lot of unique and sometimes devastating challenges which have had lasting impacts on the community.

“We were at the front and centre of the Black Saturday bushfires, we had 11 staff who lost their homes and most of them still turned up for work which says a lot about our community – following from that we have two sets of floods over my time which is always challenging, and now COVID of course which is still affecting us today,” he said.

“We have also had a number of internal challenges including our switchboard being blown up resulting in half the hospital having no power for 24 hours that was followed up by a cyber-attack which meant we lost all of our communications across Gippsland so we had to work through that as well.

“It has been a long journey, I have seen a lot, but the great thing is we have always come out the other side of any challenge.”

Reflecting back on his time, Mr Craighead described the legacy he hopes he will leave on the LRH.

“I think they would say I was firm, but fair, I have to deal with some challenges within the organisation, but with the team I have had we have got through those and made the LRH a better place,” he said.

“For me it is all about the team around me, nurturing good communication and not being afraid of the hard decisions, because if you like it or not there will always be hard decisions – all I know is I can go home every night and know that I have done something in the best interest of this organisation and this community.”

After having such a profound impact on the local community, he admitted he is excited for retirement and what is next for him and his family.

“I am in a fortunate position where I am happy to be retiring, my wife retired 12 months ago and I have been under a lot of family pressure to join her – so I am really looking forward to what is next for us and it is really nice to leave an organisation in a respectful and supportive manner,” he said.

“It will be a sad day in some ways leaving the office for the last time, you come to love a place and I have made a lot of friends over my time – but I know the organisation is in great hands and I am super excited for the next chapter.”