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After nearly 13 years as Chief Executive of local charity Hospiscare, Glynis Atherton, 63 from Exeter, is stepping aside this September. Retiring from a role which Glynis described as “the best job I’ve ever had,” Glynis shares her thoughts on why hospices are so important, the evolution of care and her approach to leadership.
“The single purpose and focus of Hospiscare is in valuing the last chapter of a person’s life. You can’t underestimate how important that is. Those last few weeks or days are incredibly precious and cherished by families, so the experience of dying should be made as good as it possibly can be for the patient, their family and friends.
“The comment that often comes up once people come into our care is ‘we feel safe now.’ Both patients and relatives say that. It is a privilege to hear the difference Hospiscare makes to people during the most difficult of times. That’s why we need to continue to focus relentlessly on delivering superb care for people at the end of life. We are champions of that in Exeter, Mid and East Devon and are constantly evolving to meet the growing need.
“When I first joined we used to hold the annual Light Up a Life ceremony in the garden at Searle House. People seemed to really appreciate it but it was also very difficult for relatives coming back to the hospice. I will always remember the first time we moved this memorial event to Exeter Cathedral. It was packed with over 1,000 people and was an incredibly moving and emotive experience. I really felt it and so did my colleagues. I think it’s the recognition of just how important Hospiscare is to so many people in our community. Every year we have the Light Up a Life service in the Cathedral and local churches and it brings back that realisation.
“So much has changed in the time I have been CEO. When I joined in 2006, the patient care was good and Hospiscare had a great reputation. There had been financial difficulties but the main challenges were instability in terms of staff, volunteers and morale. People were feeling unsettled and so my initial focus was on improving this. Hospiscare has always had a values-led approach with patient care at the core of everything we do. So once the internal structure and morale was back on track and our strategic direction was agreed, we worked in accordance with our values to reach out and support more patients.
“As a result all of our core services have grown. One of the largest areas developed is our care for patients with non-cancer diagnoses and adapting our model of care to support more people to die at home. We have built new day hospices to provide drop in support closer to home for patients in Tiverton (Pine Lodge) and Honiton (Kings House).
“Volunteering has also evolved enormously and was recognised with a Queens Award for Voluntary Service. We recently introduced Care Navigators who provide companionship and support for patients, and overall we have more than 1,000 dedicated and amazing volunteers.
“Our income generation activities have had to increase to ensure we can maintain and grow services in line with demand. We had 14 high street shops back in 2006, and that’s now grown to 20. We introduced e-commerce, a house clearance business and the fundraising team, and the number of annual events has grown substantially.
“My colleagues consistently surprise me by going the extra mile to support patients and families. They show such sensitivity towards how people feel and every department fulfils their role with compassion and kindness.”
Trustee Sue Sutherland commented on Glynis’s attributes as a leader and said: “Glynis articulates a clear vision for outstanding end of life care and uses her passion and enthusiasm to inspire others. Her leadership is firm, fair and encouraging which enables her to engage others in a collaborative, multi skilled approach which aims to provide patients and families with very special care“.
Glynis also gave the following top tips about the leadership lessons she has picked up during her time as CEO of Hospiscare;
- Importance of being present. It’s so important to be visible, walk the floor and thank and praise colleagues, volunteers and supporters face to face.
- Develop the ability to work through others and build a capable team around you. You can’t do it all yourself. Appoint people who know a lot more about stuff than you do! Then you just need to learn to ask the right questions.
- Agree the strategy and give your team the freedom to work out the details and deliver on the actions.
- Emphasise team work and expected behaviour. Where you don’t see great team work that is usually where things go wrong.
- Ask forgiveness rather than permission. Sometimes you need to take a risk. I am not talking about being reckless, but taking calculated, well researched decisions that involve an element of risk.
- Don’t panic, income will fluctuate. I am an eternal optimist which sometimes frustrates people, but I have learnt that you must take a longer view of situations.
- Be adaptable. When the recession hit we did have to reshape and restructure, so be willing to change as needed.
- Don’t over-plan. You need to know where you’re heading and have mapped out key milestones but it’s important to recognise plans will need to change. Organisations must remain agile.
- Collaborate, network, adapt, innovate, see opportunities and take them.
- Remember things will go wrong. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. You can’t always make everyone happy.
Glynis continues: “I am now looking forward to taking some time out to reflect. I have two grandchildren and a third on the way so I will definitely be enjoying more time with family. I also intend to keep my hand in with the hospice movement. I used to get a buzz every day I went into work so want to continue working on UK wide projects that support and promote the amazing work that hospices do. I may also act as a coach for budding CEOs, so I will be keeping myself busy as ever!”
Hospiscare is a local adult hospice charity, providing high quality care and support to people with any type of terminal illness, and those close to them, in Exeter, Mid and East Devon. A gift to Hospiscare in your Will helps to ensure the future of the charity in Devon for generations to come.