Dr John Hall's Wild Ride

By , Hedgie Gundry , Melinda McCarthy published on 24/11/2021 Ochre Recruitment, Ochre Health,

As Dr John Hall finishes his two-year tenure at Ochre Health as DMS, we chat to him about the year that was, reflecting on his numerous achievements and the impressive growth of Ochre Health.

It's been a year since we last spoke. Despite Covid-19 and the rollout of vaccinations taking centre stage, Ochre Health has continued to grow with your launch in Western NSW, new sites in QLD and Tasmania, and locum roster lines in hospitals across hospitals our southern state. Can you take us through some of these highlights and explain how they have impacted the surrounding communities?

It's been a massive couple of years, with the outbreak of Covid-19 occurring within my initial few weeks at Ochre Health back in early 2020. But we have continued to grow in this context due to our successful acquisition strategy, our sound due diligence, close engagement with our new teams, and help with onboarding. We've grown almost 45% since I started with Ochre in terms of practices. We now have 56 sites and manage over 320 doctors. It has been a wild ride keeping up with business as usual during a pandemic and then this growth strategy on top. 

One of the big highlights of 2021 was taking on the Western NSW contract, which we launched earlier this year. We opened six new Ochre Medical Centres in Bourke, Brewarrina, Collarenebri, Coonamble, Lightning Ridge, and Walgett following our selection by the Western NSW Local Health District to provide on-site cover for the hospital rosters of each of those towns. It's been huge. We won the tender in late 2020 and worked hard refitting and setting up practices, engaging with the community, and working in local hospitals for almost six months, getting everything ready before the March kick-off. The recruitment process was also significant to make sure we had the staff on the ground. 

Part of what we do differently in Ochre's rural sites is contracts with the local hospital. So we run the local general practice in the town and provide medical staffing for the hospital service in the same community, which is unique. It was interesting working closely with the LHD out there and having to onboard all of our doctors into the hospital system to make sure we could keep those hospitals staffed with a 24/7 roster of doctors covering emergency and inpatients. Seeing the team come together and engaging with our new and amazing doctors has been incredibly rewarding.

How did Ochre Health respond to the emerging Covid-19 crisis in Western NSW?

The spread of Covid-19 became a considerable challenge, and we were heavily involved in response to the outbreak in the Indigenous communities there earlier this year. Ochre Health joined a federally coordinated disaster response, including the RFDS and AUSMAT, a government medical assistance team typically flown in for natural disasters to set up field hospitals and supply critical care staff. This response also included the LHD, workforce agencies, and the Aboriginal Medical Services to ensure adequate testing and treatment facilities were in place.

There were over 4,500 Indigenous infections in Ochre Health's footprint, and we were heavily involved in supporting our doctors to provide services both in hospitals and in the community. 

In addition to this response, Ochre Health has also played a considerable role in the local vaccination program, ensuring these communities were vaccinated in a timely way to mitigate the unfolding outbreak. As a result, many of them are now over 90% vaccinated, which is fantastic. 

What have been the highlights in Tasmania this year and also Queensland for Ochre Health?

Tasmania has been a big focus for me because we've had many workforce challenges due to Covid-19. Throughout the Delta wave, all governments around the nation tightened their restrictions around allowing healthcare workers to travel across borders. In 2020, despite Covid-19, we could still get exemptions to allow essential healthcare workers to travel and provide locum services. But with the increased threat of Delta, most governments removed any exemptions if they had come from areas where there'd been an outbreak. So this ruled out the whole of NSW and Victoria, where most of our local workforce comes from.

So this had a substantial practical impact on Tasmania and our rosters because we couldn't move the locum workforce. However, thanks to some innovative rostering and reform across our sites, we could better use the existing local workforce, bring in some junior doctors, and implement new processes to allow us to manage. We incorporated telehealth services as well. Tasmania continues to be a challenge in terms of supplying the workforce to man those hospitals 24/7, but it's also been the site of some great work and collaboration between the Tasmanian Health Service and us.

Tasmania has also been a hotbed of acquisitions for Ochre Health. There's been a lot of growth in the Hobart area, with two new sites currently being onboarded and the building of a new site that has been a massive success. 

Queensland has also gone from strength to strength. We're expanding our rural footprint and our practices continue to impress, with many of them growing into real hubs for teaching and training as well. Ochre Health was also successful in winning four tenders for new government GP-led respiratory clinics, and we have contributed significantly to the Covid-19 vaccine campaign and testing. So yes, it's been a momentous year.

Personally, when you reflect on the past few years, what's been the most enjoyable aspect of working as DMS for Ochre? 
It's honestly been the people. I've made some lifelong friends and really enjoyed my time with everyone. I know Ochre Health will continue to do great things because of its team of decent human beings working with one purpose: to serve rural and regional communities.  

The Ochre Recruitment team also works very closely with Ochre Health. Throughout my time, I've got to know the recruiters really well, and that's been an incredible journey, working with really hard-working, dedicated people that are a big part of the solution. For me, that's the real highlight. 

It's been a challenge doing this job over the last few years and being the President of the Rural Doctors' Association because that came with significant additional responsibilities and workload due to Covid-19. We were meeting weekly with the Federal Minister for Rural and Regional Health on Covid-19 updates, which we were able to feedback into Ochre as well. So it's been a whirl, but it's been pleasing to be part of the solution and to help support Ochre in its everyday work and its growth strategy as well.

Your Presidency at the Rural Doctors Association has also just recently come to an end. So where to from here for John Hall?

I'm a GP obstetrician by trade, which has meant working in birthing units, particularly in rural Australia, throughout my time with Ochre. I love this part of my work, and rather than let it go, I've decided to take on more GP obstetric work. I've got a new position in a town called St George in far west Queensland. So I'll be flying out there two weeks on two weeks off for the foreseeable future and also doing some possible work around Gympie and other sites in Queensland that have rural maternity services. I will also finish my master of public health and my master of business administration. No doubt I will go back to some medical administration role again in the future, but in the meantime, I am focusing on my passions which is an excellent place to be. 

Thank you for your time once again John. It's been a pleasure talking to you in your capacity as Ochre DMS over the past few years. We wish you all the best for the future.

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