Karen Lee is a familiar name to many of us in the Community Care sector. She has previously held appointments in various organisations, including Home Nursing Foundation and Agency for Integrated Care. In January, she took on the role of Chief Executive Officer of HCA Hospice.
mosAIC caught up with her to find out how her first 100 days have been like.
You’ve been in the Community Care sector for a long time. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your time in the sector?
The folks in the Community Care sector are kind, generous and pragmatic people. I have seen colleagues being so creative in coming up with practical solutions to better meet patients’ needs – and that inspires me tremendously.
The patients and their caregivers whom I’ve encountered show so much strength and fortitude in bearing their discomfort, and try so hard to make the best of life. It is a humbling experience, which I am grateful to be part of.
What made you stay in the sector?
I hope to be able to do my small part in making my fellow human beings’ journey better in this mortal world.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I see myself as the goalkeeper of a football team – the last line of defence. With my vantage point, I can feed additional data points to my team, to attack and defend, so that we can move and adjust our tactics on the ground accordingly. But at the end of the day, I am still a member of the team. We each have a different role to play, but we are all working towards a common goal of providing quality care and support to our patients and their caregivers.
From the management’s point of view, what are the qualities that make a good Community Care professional?
A generous dose of humility and open-mindedness always serves us well. It allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, which is crucial when we work so closely with people on intimate health and social issues over a medium to long-term basis. With limited resources, the ability to improvise is also important.
What is one thing that a CEO does that other people might not know about?
Haha… I’m not sure I am the best person to answer this question. I just do whatever needs to be done to resolve the issues at hand. Perhaps it is best to ask the rest of the HCA team, when your paths do cross, how I might have surprised (or shocked) them in the last 100 days. :)
How different is it working at HCA Hospice compared to your previous roles at HNF and AIC?
My time at HNF and AIC have prepared me well for my current role in HCA. At HNF, I was a very young and inexperienced CEO who was learning more about home care and working as part of a team. The experience at AIC opened my eyes to overall policy-making and gave me a breadth of exposure to the entire Community Care sector. With these experiences in hand, I hope they will allow me to be a more grounded and useful member of the HCA family.
What do you do in your free time that a lot of people might not know about?
I am fairly open about my hobbies, so I guess there will be no surprises for those who know me. I enjoy having friends over for a meal and drinks, having a silly time with my dogs (Pixie and Flossie) and spending a ridiculous amount of time talking to my plants. And oh, I do also enjoy my weekly rides with my neighbours.
Walk us through your first 100 days as CEO of HCA Hospice (HCA).
1. First day at HCA
January 3, 2022 marked my first day as the CEO of HCA. Even though I have worked at various organisations over the last 20 years, I still cherish and look forward to each ‘first day’. From meeting new colleagues to being orientated around the office, my first day was packed with many activities. As I was catching a breather, my Communications team pulled me aside for a quick photo.
2. First visits to HCA’s facilities
Apart from introducing and familiarising myself with our staff at HCA headquarters, I believe it was equally important to meet our staff and beneficiaries at our satellite and day hospice centres. These visits helped put a face on those who serve and those who are served under HCA Hospice. It took a few days to complete my visits around the island, but they have become a constant reminder and motivation for me to always steer HCA in the right direction—to ensure the best quality care for our patients.
3. First radio interview for HCA
Just shortly after joining the HCA family, I was invited to speak with CNA938’s Stanley Leong and Susan Ng for their ‘Money Mind’ segment about our newest day hospice, Oasis@Outram. I was very excited to share more about this ground-breaking facility, which was two years in the making, and you can listen to our conversation here.
4. Centre for Non-Profit Leadership’s learning journey to Oasis@Outram
L-R: Mr Gabriel Lim, Programme Director, Lien Foundation; Ms Karen Lee, CEO, HCA Hospice; Dr Chong Poh Heng, Medical Director, HCA Hospice; and Ms Tan Ching Yee, Head of Psychosocial Services, HCA Hospice.
In January, we hosted several non-profit leaders for a learning journey at Oasis@Outram. Apart from the tour around our new day hospice, we also had a panel discussion on “Destigmatising the End-of-Life Journey,” where my colleagues, Poh Heng and Ching Yee, and I shared about our work in the palliative care field. You can watch the video here.
5. First town hall with the HCA Family
On February 7, 2022, We had our first town hall as a HCA Family. Given the restrictions at the time, only 50% attended the session in person. While it was not the most ideal situation to meet everyone in the family, we had to make do. I have heard recounts of the HCA gatherings during festive occasions and they sounded heart-warming and full of cheer. I am hoping we will be able to gather as a family again soon.
6. Embarking on a strategic review meeting for HCA
As the largest home hospice provider in Singapore, we are constantly looking forward into the future to better position ourselves to serve the community. To chart the path forward for the next three to five years, I am putting together a strategic review exercise involving our Board and leaders within HCA, casting the spotlight on four pillars: people and culture, volunteers, IT and processes and financial stability, and I hope to share more about their developments in time to come.
7. First Skip-Level meeting
Much of my work thus far has allowed me to work with the various department heads and managers, which has allowed me to see the big HCA picture. But with my Skip-Level* meeting, I wanted to deep dive into the detailed operations and meet the ground staff, without their managers around. I enjoy these discussions because they paint a richer picture of our staff’s sentiments.
*A skip-level meeting is a meeting where top management, e.g. CEO, meets directly with employees, without the managers in attendance.
8. First home visit with the HCA team
It has been really good fun with the HCA team, who have been more than generous in welcoming me in their midst and ensuring I feel at home.
I particularly enjoy going on home visits with our clinical teams and being able to interact directly with those we serve and support. It helps to keep me focused on why we come to work daily and keeps our priorities clear. Personally, these experiences ground me as a person and serve as constant reminders of how fortunate I am to be in a position to serve, guide and influence.
9. HCA’s transition to a Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG)
After three months with HCA Hospice Care, I was proud to announce on behalf of our society, Board and organisation that we have transitioned to “HCA Hospice” (or “HCA Hospice Limited” when used officially). Despite the name change, my goal for the HCA family remains the same.
10. 100th Day at HCA
As of April 13, 2022, I have concluded my first 100 days at HCA Hospice. I think it is safe to say that the adventure has only just begun. In these three months alone, I have had many first experiences with the team. It certainly is a promising start to my time here with the HCA family.