VMCH Board Chairman Julien O’Connell has been recognised for his service to aged care over 15 years with a top honour in the Queen’s Birthday List.
Mr O’Connell said he was thrilled and honoured to be appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to community health in the aged care sector through executive roles, and to higher education, adding to his AM received in 2013.
“I am very honoured to receive this recognition,” he said.
“I know they all say that, but quite truthfully I didn’t expect to get this second honour.
“To be frank, I wouldn’t have received it if I hadn’t worked with organisations like VMCH and we didn’t have the great people around us to carry out the work. I’ve been blessed in my life with being able to have people around me of a high standard and quality, and that makes my task easier.”
Mr O’Connell was appointed to the VMCH Board of Directors in 2019 after recently retiring as Chair of the Board of Mercy Health.
He is also currently Executive Chairman of Mercy Health Foundation, Chair of PM Glynn Institute and is a member of a number of Archdiocese Committees and Councils.
During his time with Mercy Health, a position her held from 2008, he took it from a relative modest operation to a national organisation with a serious aged care presence across the nation.
“While to owners of the organisation styled me as an executive chair, I held the view that you’ve got a CEO and my role was governance and establishing a strategic plan,” he told Community Care Review.
He also set about improving the board’s gender balance to 50-50 on merit and took Mercy Health’s workforce from 3,500 to 10,500 over ten years.
Now with VMCH, he has a vision for a greater collaborative role for the aged care and disability provider.
“VMCH is a very diverse organisation and we face many challenges in supporting marginalised people across various areas, whether it’s through affordable housing or supporting young people with acquired brain injuries, he said.
“I firmly believe that in aged care, when you’ve got similar values embedded in your organisation, you have to become collaborative with other organisations.
“We do that now but we need to make it stronger still.”
Mr O’Connell also believes palliation needs to be improved, not only for economic reasons but also to provide better support and more options for people facing end of life and their families.
“My position is that we can probably do better in palliative care than we do at the moment,” he says.
He would also would like to see more funding, more opportunities for professional development and better recognition for workers on the coal face of aged care and disability service provision.
He says one of the more “pleasurable tasks” in his career has been seeing aged care students graduating from Australian Catholic University where he is Pro-Chancellor.
“Where I get a very significant buzz is when I see these graduates coming through, and many times they are the first in their family to have a higher education,” he says.
“The families are so proud of them, and they’re proud of the fact that they’ve gone into aged care.
“I think we’ve really go to work hard at getting that recognition for the people who serve so well the people who are trusted to their care.”
Mr O’Connell, a grandfather of nine, said he celebrated his award with a “lovely family dinner” and looks forward to the award ceremony at Government House later this year.
He also thanked his wife of almost 50 years, whose support of his career was unwavering. “I couldn’t have done any of this without her support,” he said.
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