The Mercy Hospital Foundation is looking to build a new cancer care centre by the end of 2018 but it is just one of a number of initiatives undertaken by chief executive Micheál Sheridan and the organisation.
Celebrating 10 years, the foundation has raised millions to be spent on upgrades to the hospital and facilities for patients, including €702,000 in 2016. Oncology, paediatrics, and cardiology are just some of its many specialist areas.
Mr Sheridan said: “The foundation was set up in March 2007 and I was brought onboard in September. I was hired with a plan to achieve two things. The first was to start to become a central point for people to start putting their funding through. Historically, if there had been departments getting gifts from grateful patients to use towards their services, we became a point that that funding would go through. The second reason we were set up was to start generating new money through fundraising. That was through events, campaigns, donors, private individuals, that kind of thing. In the 10 years, we’ve achieved a lot and we have also learned a lot.”
One such life lesson for Mr Sheridan was the need to think like a business CEO.
“For me, I think traditionally I’ve been more led by the emotional side of my character. But when you take on a role as a CEO of an organisation, you have to either have or very quickly learn the skills required to run what is a business. For me, the 10 years has been a learning curve. When I was brought in, I was the only fundraiser in the organisation, I was the only staff member. Over time, what I’ve been able to do — because of the success of our fundraising and also because of the support of our board — has been bring in staff to enable us to grow and develop areas of funding but also not only on the fundraising side but importantly on the system side,” he said.
Those business-like decisions have led to exponential improvements for patients, but also for the hospital.
“One example is the Poons Project, which is a mobile nursing service for children with cancer in Cork primarily, but also children in counties that are very close to the border. What that service does is two nurses travel out to see these children in their own homes. So that means from a social perspective, mum and dad aren’t having to come into hospital, the child doesn’t have to come into hospital and face all the anxieties, and it is costing us about €18,000 a year. The number of children they are working with and the cost to the system of those children being in hospital, there is a direct benefit to the family and the patient, but also to the system,” he said.
The foundation is in a new fundraising phase from 2017 to 2020, which includes the new cancer centre among other projects. In a sector beset by controversy, good corporate governance is essential.
“What happened with recent charity scandals tarred all charities as the same. We were viewed like institutions like the Church or Gardaí or Government. What is important from a charity’s perspective individually but also as a sector is where I see those failings first and foremost was at a governance level. You would have to ask questions about the role of the board and also not only the role of the board but how actively they were involved in oversight,” he said. The foundation has a board where individuals serve no longer than nine years, three three-year terms.
“We have a board of 10 at the moment. Importantly we have a 50-50 gender balance. We have a skills mix on the board which is important in terms of the business we are involved in. Our board is made up of people with experience in HR, communications, medical background, involved in running senior businesses nationally and people who are not afraid to challenge. For CEOs of not-for-profits, that is crucial. If you feel you are in a comfort zone where you can bring items to your board meeting and feel you can have them rubber-stamped en masse, that’s not healthy. It also means you are not double-checking yourself. Therefore that is the role of boards,” he said. Financial accountability to the public is vital.
“The big thing for charities at the moment is triple-lock, the idea that there are from a governance and oversight perspective. There are three documents required that show good practice. Using Standard of Reporting Practice as their financial accounting system, signing up to the guiding principles of fundraising and signing up to good governance in the sector,” he said.
It’s been 10 years but the foundation aims to do much more.
“The key thing is the opportunity to look at what the foundation is doing now and what it could offer the hospital and community in the future. We’re 10 years old, we’ve achieved a lot, who knows what the future of healthcare is. We want to continue achieving what we can for people,” he said.
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