Newcastle CEO Truly Making a Difference
For as long as she can remember, Maroba CEO Viv Allanson has wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
There was the fete she organised in the backyard of her Merewether Heights home when she was nine-years-old, to raise funds to support a girl at her school who had cancer.
There was her decision to become a pink lady when she was just 15, rolling bandages and collecting dirty laundry as the youngest ever volunteer at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. There were the days she hid under her bed and pretended to be sick so she could stay home from school to care for her mother, who was dying of cancer.
For Viv, it was almost as if helping others was a part of her DNA.
“I could remember from when I could talk that I wanted to be a nurse. In fact, I used to hope that I was going to be a missionary nurse and go to the ends of the earth and make a difference,” Viv said.
“From a child, for some reason, I don't know if it was in my DNA or where it came from, but there was just this sense of wanting to make a difference. Then my mother was sick, she had cancer, and she died three days after my twelfth birthday.
“But I remember during her illness, I used to hide under the bed so I didn't have to go to school so I could stay home and look after her.
“(Her illness) had a big impact because I knew I wanted to be with her, I adored her.”
While the loss of her mother at such a young age was a devastating blow for Viv, it also helped spur her on to follow her dreams of becoming a nurse.
“We often hear people say to tell your kids ‘You can do anything, just believe you can do anything’,” Viv said.
“Mother never said those words but the way she lived her life, I was convinced that what she was saying to me would have been ‘What you put your mind to, what you set your heart on you will achieve it’. She lived a life that gave me confidence and hope around that belief.”
Viv began her life as a trainee nurse in February 1975 at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. At the age of 17, she was the youngest member of the group. It was the beginning of an incredible career in the public health service that included 15 years at the Royal, while also fulfilling her childhood dream to work as a church-based missionary nurse in the slums of India, the Philippines and South America.
In 1991 Viv made the switch to aged care in what was a deliberate, but unexpected career move.
“I had a very successful career plan in the health system at Royal Newcastle,” she said.
“But I went to work one day, and I looked out the window, and it was like I heard the audible voice of God saying, ‘Viv, it’s okay for you to leave here’. And I thought, ahh, now that's interesting because I hadn't planned to leave the Royal.
“Then it just came to me. I would see old people come here every day to the Royal Newcastle Hospital from nursing homes, this was 28 years ago, and people came in from nursing homes in the most deplorable conditions. They had pressure sores; they were malnourished, they were covered in faeces, and dirty. Just absolutely dreadful. And it just came to me, in that instant when I heard that voice say ‘It's okay to leave’, that I can make a difference to these older people.”
Viv has spent the past 27 years trying to make a difference in the sector, a feat that she has certainly achieved for those who live and work at the Maroba residential aged care facility at Waratah.
She joined the not-for-profit organisation as the Director of Nursing in 1994 before being promoted to the role of CEO in 2000.
Viv has overseen many changes at Maroba including one of her proudest achievements - embedding a learning culture within the organisation that has seen it become a formal teaching nursing home with links to the University of Newcastle and TAFE NSW.
She has also been widely acknowledged for her work, and in 2016 was named the CEO of the Year by APAC Insider Magazine.
Not surprisingly though, Viv lists an award she was given as a result of her compassionate and caring nature, and the happiness of her residents, as the most rewarding aspects of her career.
“I have had a number of awards, which has been a great honour but the loveliest one for me, the most heart-warming, was to be recognised as the most compassionate CEO (by CEO Monthly in 2017).”
“I walk around this building; sometimes I think I'm the happiest CEO. Most aged care leaders have their office in their facility, and I'm fortunate that I do because, in the bigger organisations, the CEO's don't get to 'touch' the lives of people day in and day out, whereas I have that opportunity every single day. The most rewarding thing for me is to see people smile and hold their arms up for a hug.
“So to have even family members embracing me in the car park, embracing me in the foyer, embracing me by the side of their mother’s bed is the greatest reward because what they say to me, they'll whisper to me, ‘Viv, your staff are amazing. Thank you, Viv, for letting us come here.’ That's what rewards me.”