AS the chief executive officer for Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), there is rarely a dull moment in the life of Beulah Stephens. Her days are spent patrolling wards, monitoring staff, managing the maintenance of equipment, managing her financial resources and most importantly, helping to save lives.
"I always say to people that KPH has five factories down here and what you actually see is the patients passing through and the maintenance of that, but in terms of managing people, you have to manage the equipment, you have to manage the assets of the institution to make sure that when the patient comes, things are functioning, so that they can be seen appropriately. It's a combination of people management as well as managing things," she explained in summarising her job.
The trained nurse and midwife has obviously been doing a good job because she was called back on four separate occasions to the hospital to fill various posts. Her first stint with the Government institution was in 2007 when, as she puts it, she "was just passing through". She spent three months then left and returned briefly in 2009 before leaving again to take up the post as the acting regional director at the South East Regional Health Authority. A few months later she was then reassigned to the hospital as CEO and served in that post until she retired. But before she could really start getting used to being home, she was called upon again to give of herself. This was made possible through a change in the retirement age from 60 to 65.
The hospital's chief administrator doesn't really mind being back on the job, although she says there are times when she has to admit that life "is better on the other side".
Her love for people and helping to facilitate the process of meeting their needs is, she believes, the primary reason why she decided to come back. It is this love that has kept her in the health sector for more than 40 years and was the reason behind her signing up to become a nurse as a teenager.
"As a child you go to primary school and you notice nurses coming around and giving services to you such as immunisation and I liked what I saw then. I liked the professionalism that I saw and I chose to do nursing out of that experience," she said.
Her decision did not go so well with her family who encouraged her to become a teacher instead. In obedience, Stephens enrolled at Shortwood Teachers' College, but after one term she left. As soon as she reached 18 she entered nursing school and has not looked backed since. She was a nurse for seven years before going into nursing education and then branching off into nursing administration.
"I have worked in St Thomas as parish manager for the health services there; I have worked in St Catherine as parish manager for the health services there; I have worked in KSA (Kingston and St Andrew) as parish manager for the health services also; and I am here at KPH/VJH (Victoria Jubilee Hospital) as the CEO," she explained.
"You need the analytic skills in order to manage the services, because health is multi-faceted. So I was able to sit and analyse and get to know health management, because that is so different from other management," she said.
Prior to managing the health services in these parishes, Stephens was able to garner a lot of nursing experience at Cornwall Regional Hospital. As a state nurse, she was also able to take breaks from the Kingston School of Nursing where she taught for several years, to work intermittently at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, USA. The Mannings School graduate would have been content working as a nurse and teaching nursing students had she not seen that she could do even more good by managing hospitals.
"It's a matter of utilising my previous knowledge as a nurse to now recognising the needs and to implement this knowledge," she said.
"I think that my greatest asset is people. So I have to work with people to achieve and I have to know my middle managers' weaknesses, I have to know their strengths and sometimes you have to look for the best fit for a particular area," she said.
Stephens admits that the hospital does have its challenges, but most days, the positives outweigh the negatives.
"I like positive outcomes and when I see the positives that come, like a patient walking and you never expected survival, but the person survived and leaves the institution... many persons have come back to say thank you. Those are the things that make your day," she said.
As the last referral point for patients at public hospitals in Jamaica, the KPH resources, both human and physical, are always in demand, which means there are often recurring issues such as the shortage of bed space. Added to this is the fact that the hospital is located in a commercial district where there are high levels of crime.
"Because we are really in the heart of the commercial district you find that everything that happens come to KPH. So it's not unusual for me to be seated here and hear an uproar from a crowd passing by, because if something goes wrong down there it's going to come to KPH," she said.
Stephens said the hospital continues to be a success because of the staff who give of themselves in spite of the challenges.
"I am very proud of being a part of the facility; being a part of the team. They are a very hard-working team and regardless of what happens, I find that my staff puts their best foot forward all the time in order to get patient services done," she said.
Thankfully for Stephens, her family is very supportive of what she does. Her two daughters are both local doctors and her husband has never been short of ideas when she needs them the most.
"My husband, he has lived with me for so many years as a nurse; he is used to me taking care and giving care, so I think his support is very important," she said.
In addition to making day-to-day plans for the hospital, Stephens is also doing a bit of succession planning.
"I have a couple of middle managers here and they are very young but willing to learn and I take pleasure in preparing them to take over," she said.