Borough hospice chief executive speaks about new role and challenges ahead
She talked about settling into the top job at one of the borough's biggest and best-loved charities.
Jo Carby took on her new role at Wigan and Leigh Hospice (WLH) last month following the retirement of her predecessor Dr Alan Baron.
Having been at the Hindley-based charity for 13 years and previously worked as clinical director Ms Carby says much about the job she has taken on is familiar.
She also admits that she is taking the helm at the hospice as the charity faces significant challenges during the long recovery process from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike Dr Baron, who came to the charity from a business background, Ms Carby has ascended to the chief executive’s post after a career in nursing.
She says swapping her previous post as clinical director for one that involves looking at more than just the medical side of the hospice’s work has prompted some thinking.
She said: “This is the first time in my career that I’ve come into a role which you don’t have to be a nurse to do. I’m reflecting on that quite a lot.
“There are more clinicians taking on chief executive roles than there used to be but I still feel like a nurse. That doesn’t just go.
“At the moment the role still feels very new and exciting, but it also still feels like I’m sitting in Alan’s office.
“I worked closely with Alan as clinical director and we were next door neighbours here until the pandemic. We gave each other a lot of support and when he said he was retiring it was something we talked about, whether it was something I would want to do.
“There’s a lot about this hospice which is familiar and embedded in me, and though the role is different my place in this community and family is still a humble one.”
Ms Carby described her application for the top job as feeling like a natural step.
The transition, though, means she is particularly now getting to grips with the income-generating side of WLH’s work.
She said: “I know the clinical side of the charity well and have a very strong vision for the clinical direction of the hospice.
“I’ve also worked on the building, equipment and health and safety aspects as they’re part of patient care.
“I’m now enjoying learning about the income-generating side. There are two parts to the hospice: patient care and getting the money to pay for it.
“It’s brilliant to learn about the retail, how the shops work with the volunteers, and the fund-raising. I almost feel quite tearful thinking about the volunteers, it is so humbling.”
Ms Carby’s development of her income-generating knowledge comes as the hospice faces an extremely challenging financial situation.
Government funding helped to get the charity through the worst of Covid-19 last year but the outlook for filling its coffers once again has many question marks.
She said: “It concerns me a lot. It is really very tough. Without the Government help it is hard to imagine how we would have survived the last year but that’s over now.
“Fund-raising isn’t anywhere close to where it was before the pandemic, the shops are going to take a while to be earning what they were and mass-participation events are still very uncertain.
“We don’t know how people will feel about going to them. People are understandably anxious about getting back to what is being described as normality.”
It is not just the funding side of the hospice where the pandemic has taken its toll.
WLH has had to make major changes to how it works, from setting up virtual services to restricting access to the building, and staff have been on the front line.
For that reason Ms Carby says the wellbeing of the workforce is her other major priority over the next 12 months.
She said: “It has been really tough. Some staff have been working at home in isolation, others have been on the front line caring for patients.
“It will take some time to recover from that. We will be doing a lot of work to keep the health and social care workforce well as they begin to heal from these experiences. Wellbeing is paramount.”
Despite the changes, Ms Carby says the use of technology to run things like training for care home staff and some of the hospice’s services could be maintained or expanded in the future, although she admits she is very aware of the downsides of an increasingly virtual world as well.
She said: “We’ve been able to work with all the care homes in the borough, which we weren’t able to do before. They have never needed support more or needed the hospice more than during the past year.
“There are definitely some success stories and it has enabled us to embrace the potential of technology, but I think some of our palliative patients have really struggled.
“There’s a lot for us to think about with the needs of our patients on issues like loneliness and bereavement. People have experienced bereavement in a way we would never have wanted.”
In the longer term Ms Carby says her vision is for the hospice to be even more integrated into the wider health partnerships in the borough, working alongside the council and the NHS.
She says relationships have been built up in recent times and she wants to extend this to ensure end-of-life and palliative care in Wigan is as seamless as possible.
She also says the difficulties the hospice faces did not put her off applying for the top job.
She said: “I enjoy a challenge. I think there’s something in the nature of people who choose to work in palliative and end-of-life care.
“I have been humbled to be able to support people facing the worst times of their lives.
“I’ve always loved this work and maybe that personality means I’m suited to being chief executive at this time.”
As she continues to settle in at the chief executive’s desk Ms Carby’s message to Wiganers is that the charity needs more than ever the support it has traditionally enjoyed from the borough’s residents.
She said: “We know our community values us and we are here for each other, and we need them to help us and to keep thinking of us so we can continue the good work we do.”
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