Symonds resigns from the hospitals board
The chief executive of the Bermuda Hospitals Board is to retire next year after 40 years in healthcare.
Venetta Symonds, 61, is to stand down at the end of July after she handed in her notice two weeks ago. Ms Symonds said: “My contract says I have to give six months’ notice. I gave a year’s notice, so the board can work together, along with the health minister, and figure out the next phase.
“It takes a long time to determine who you need and what the process will be, going forward.”
Ms Symonds said most people in a similar role spend two or three years in the job, and that she will have done eight years by the time she retires.
She became CEO in 2012 after six years in the deputy CEO role, which included an eight-month stint as acting CEO in 2006.
Ms Symonds had a baptism of fire as acting CEO, after she found herself in the middle of a row over plans to build the new hospital on part of the nearby Botanical Gardens.
She had to face down hundreds of angry people at town hall meetings, organised to discuss the proposal.
Ms Symonds said: “I stood there, looking at this crowd and trying to understand their passion, and trying to rationalise it, against the reality of putting things on a green field.
“The lesson I walked out of there with was, you have to listen. You can’t make a decision that is huge, without engaging and bringing the public along with you.”
The BHB backed down and changed their plans.
Ms Symonds said: “When it went for the final permission at planning, when there could have been a thousand signatures saying ‘no’, no one registered a concern.”
Ms Symonds started at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital as a 17-year-old summer student and worked as a file clerk in the radiology department.
She became interested in radiology and won a BHB scholarship to get an associates degree in the subject.
The scholarship was only for two years, but, when she passed her board examinations with flying colours, she decided to study for a bachelor’s degree.
However, the scholarship committee said she was already qualified, and wanted her to start work right away. One committee member told her: “What do you think you’re going to do? Come back and be CEO?’.”
The committee gave in and paid for an extra two years at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and she returned to start work as a certified radiology technologist in 1980.
Ms Symonds said: “I was so nervous and scared on my first day.
“People laugh at me when I say I am shy, but that day, I kept my head down, even when going into the cafeteria. I felt like there were all these people looking at me.”
She was promoted to manager in the radiology department in 1998, after Adrian Ringer, then the head of the department, said if she could keep hospital administrators off his back, the job was hers.
The post of chief operational officer came up around the same time, and the BHB chairman visited her at work and said she should apply for the job.
Ms Symonds said: “The reason I am here is because different individuals have spotted something in me, and they encouraged me.
“When I was nervous and didn’t have confidence, they had confidence. I have had an incredible journey, to get here.”
She added she was grateful to her parents, Norris and Ilis Pearman, for their support.
Ms Symonds said: “Towards the end of her life, my mother would sit there, and say, ‘I can’t believe you are CEO of the hospital’. The tears would come. I said ‘mummy, okay, it’s been five years’. She’d say ‘but I can’t believe it’.”
Ms Symonds said medical technology had changed since she started as a radiologist, when she would have to wet develop X-ray films, a process that is now digital.
She added she had seen the first MRI scanner arrive at the hospital in 2002.
Ms Symonds said: “The machine came in a premade building. They had to lift the building off the ship and onto the dock.
“It was put on a trailer and we all walked behind it, to the hospital. They had to change the medians in the road to accommodate us.”
Ms Symonds said she planned to explore a new-found passion for art, gardening and travel, as well as spend more time with husband Carlos and adult children Marcus and Natasia.
William Madeiros, the BHB chairman, said: “BHB has flourished under Ms Symonds’s vision and direction.
“Quality has improved, there is a strong strategy in place driving exceptional care, a strong partnership and a healthy community, and BHB has become a more open, transparent and caring partner under her leadership.”
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