Rusty pipes are all the motivation new boss needs
Some people keep framed photos on their desk; Venetta Symonds keeps pieces of rusty pipe.
The pipes come from the current hospital site and are a keen reminder of why the new hospital is so necessary.
“Probably about ten years ago someone came to me and was trying to get funding to invest more in the facilities,” said Mrs Symonds, the new CEO of Bermuda Hospitals Board. “He was trying to describe how the pipes become occluded over time, much in the same way blood vessels do when someone has a stroke. He brought me up a piece of pipe to show me.”
After that, whenever people questioned the need for upgrades to the hospital’s facilities, she brought out the rusty pipes.
Mrs Symonds, who was deputy CEO, officially replaces David Hill as BHB CEO on April 6, after his five-year contract ends. She started at the hospital at 17-years-old, working as a file clerk in the X-ray department. While she was there she became so fascinated by the X-ray work, that she decided to become an X-ray technologist. That year, she and another student won two-year scholarships to study X-ray technology. However, she soon determined that two years was not enough, and she wanted a proper bachelor’s degree to better compete with the mostly non-Bermudian X-ray staff at the hospital at the time. At first, the hospital scholarship board was reluctant, questioning why she felt she needed more education.
“During a board meeting requesting an extension to my scholarship, one lady ironically told me: ‘What do you think, if you do four years you are just going to come back and be CEO?’” said Mrs Symonds. “I said, ‘no, but if I don’t do it, I will never have the opportunity [to be CEO]’.”
A week later, her scholarship extension was approved.
“I didn’t come back looking to be a supervisor, but I knew I could get my edge through knowledge,” she said. “That has been my way of life ever since then. If you prepare yourself, you open yourself up to options. If you don’t prepare yourself, who can you blame?”
She was certified as an X-ray technologist at Edgecombe Technical Institute, and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis.
These days her office has a perfect view of the construction site at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and the large crane there. The first floor of what will eventually become the emergency room and diagnostic imaging is already visible. The project is expected to be completed in 2014.
“It is a huge project, but we have an incredible team,” she said. “I don’t think one could do anything alone in an organisation this big. Looking at the project from the onset, it was exciting. It was incredibly exciting.”
She said she always wanted the opportunity to work outside of the hospital, or outside of the focus of just patient care. The project has given her the opportunity to work with all manner of professionals including engineers, architects, lawyers and other healthcare professionals. She particularly likes working with clinical advisers.
“It pulled at the clinician part of me that loves patient care,” she said. “We had to project what patients will need in 20 years’ time. We had to look at what our specifications and needs will be in two decades. We had to ask, what kind of emergency room, and patient rooms do we need? If we want to control disease what is it best to do? We had to reverse engineer and get that vision.”
Mrs Symonds said one big change will be that patients will have their own rooms. This will cut down on cross contamination between patients.
“We specified that they build in as much flexibility as possible in the event that we need to change those rooms to meet a future need,” she said. “So the design was as flexible as it could be so we could expand or contract as need be in the future.”
The emergency room will also be better equipped to deal with large scale disasters. Her vision for the future also included a more integrated healthcare system, with more focus on prevention and care available at home.
“A whole line on wellness will be developed,” she said. “I see a future where the incidence of chronic disease is decreased.”
She said she is looking forward to 2014 when the new hospital is completed to finally unwrap the package and see what they have.
“Every day I look out there and it is incredible to watch it being built,” she said. “I am excited and looking forward to 2014 and knowing what we are truly getting. I am looking forward to the new operating rooms coming online to increase our ability to have same day surgery and things like endoscopies and routine procedures. I am looking forward to walking into the dialysis unit and seeing people in their separate stations with space between them. It will give these patients the dignity that they need.”
Mrs Symonds recently experienced the hospital through a difference perspective. Her father, Norris Pearman, developed cancer and died recently.
“I experienced through him the system and its challenges,” she said. “We experienced the support of PALS and the lack of coordination within our healthcare system. What I aspire to is a Bermudian orientation. We are achieving international standards, but there is another level on this, that you will see reflected in that design and in new processes.”
The new hospital did not start completely on schedule as builders discovered sand pockets on the site. But she said, since then builders have more than caught up and are back on schedule.
She said in her personal life, she is very focused on family. Her mother, Ilis Pearman, sometimes comes to her office to see the building going up. She is married to Carlos Symonds and they have two children Marcus and Natasia who are both in university.