Updated: 15/05/17 : 05:19:48
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Sheila Smith - A Public Servant who made a difference

Sheila Smith, HSE employee and former General Manager of Sligo University Hospital, died unexpectedly on 12th April 2017.  A native of Dublin, but educated and raised in Sligo, she forged a career in the health services over 33 years, working in a series of frontline, operational, strategic, corporate and managerial roles.  She was educated at Mercy College, Sligo.  She attained many academic achievements, including the completion of a Masters Degree in UCG.

Her public service career commenced as a Receptionist in St. Patrick’s Hospital in Carrick on Shannon in 1984 and progressed through promotional posts in the former Eastern Health Board in Dublin during the period 1987 – 1996, including positions in the HR and the Special Hospital Care Programme.  She then transferred to the North Western Health Board in 1996 where she again held a number of administrative positions before being appointed to the role of Assistant General Manager in 2000 at Sligo General Hospital.  Four years later Sheila was appointed as General Manager, and it is perhaps in this role that she will be best remembered.

Several important capital projects were commissioned and completed during her time as General Manager, these included; the Renal Dialysis Unit, the development of an Acute Assessment Unit, upgrading of the Paediatric (Children’s) and Oncology wards, the installation of a fixed MRI Unit in the Radiology Department, updating the clinical facilities in the Mortuary, upgrading of the Orthodontic Dental/Oral Maxillofacial Suite and development of a Clean Room in the Pharmacy for the preparation of medicinal products in a sterile environment.

Many new and replacement Consultant posts were created and filled during her tenure, further enhancing services at the hospital.  These included Dermatology, Neurology, Urology, Nephrology, Endocrinology, Emergency Medicine, Anaesthesia and Radiology posts.

The hospital, under her stewardship, was to the forefront of many IT developments, including the development of an integrated patient management system, the implementation of PACs – the new Radiology system, the introduction of a new system in Opthalmology and the adoption of the new national salary and payroll system.

An Acute Hospital does not operate in a vacuum and Sheila was conscious of developing and integrating services with community partners, including HSE, Voluntary and Charitable organisations.  She presided over the launch of The Friends of Sligo General Hospital in June 2008.  This group flourished in subsequent years and has contributed enormously to enhance services for patients at the hospital.  During her time as General Manager, the hospital also launched the Hospice Friendly Hospital Initiative for both Sligo University Hospital and St. John’s Community Hospital.  Sligo University Hospital was also one of the first hospitals nationally to introduce a Volunteer Service to “meet and greet patients on arrival at the hospital” and assist them on their journey.

From an educational integration and service perspective, her lasting legacy to Sligo University Hospital is the fact that it was chosen in 2009 as the first clinical site for the education of medical students from NUI Galway.  This means that students from Galway complete a full year of training on the campus at Sligo University Hospital and study exactly the same curriculum as their other classmates at University Hospital Galway.  This initiative has been considerably advanced in recent years with over 70 students now on campus located in a €2million Medical Academy.

Being the manager of an Acute Hospital in Ireland, or elsewhere, is one of the more challenging posts in the public or private sector.  Life and death interact in such hospitals which operate within finite human and financial resources.  The manager is charged with implementing health policies against a background of regulation, inspection, targets, key performance indicators, legitimate and increasing public expectations and political and media scrutiny.  Sheila’s tenure as General Manager partly coincided with the economic recession which saw many service challenges, including the transfer of Breast Care services to Galway.

From 2012 – 2017 Sheila worked with a newly established Saolta University Health Care Group on various projects before her final assignment in March 2017 as HSE Co-ordinator of Services for Syrian Refugees and for Mental Health Services with Section 39 agencies.

Sheila’s approach at all times was one of absolute commitment, 100% effort and a can do attitude.  She always demonstrated a willingness to improve services for the public with a caring and pragmatic approach.  She was always fair and innovative in her dealings with all staff.   She had a quick mind and was capable of dealing with complex and challenging issues.  She critically evaluated all options to ensure that a particular course of action was the best option for the overall benefit of patients, whether it was a financial, staff, administrative or medical issue.

Outside of her work, Sheila’s great love was the GAA and travelled on a regular basis to attend Croke Park and Markievicz Park and indeed other stadia throughout the country with her father, Jim, and other family members.  She was knowledgeable as regards other sports and current affairs, she liked to read and had a keen interest in gardening.  Family was important to her and she will be sorely missed by them and by all her friends and colleagues.  Sheila is survived by her parents, Jim and Carmel, brothers Ultan, Jimmy and Gerard, sister Aine and the late Maura and baby Gearoid.  She is also missed by her loving family, especially nieces and nephews, brother in law Sean, sisters in law Carmel and Loretto, aunts, uncles, relatives and friends.

A short poem was written by one of her hospital colleagues and provides a fitting insight into Sheila’s character.

An Ode to Sheila

A lady,
A leader,
A diplomat, so kind,
A one such as you is difficult to find.

You managed the hospital during difficult years.
Never complaining and I’m sure close to tears.
Patient care was always central in your mind
Juggling figures,  not having dined.
Leaving late with an early start
You certainly played your part!

Your smile permeates throughout the hospital walls
A light has gone out and someone else calls.
Thank you Sheila for your contribution to us,
Your compassion, sincerity and ability to quell all the fuss.

We miss you dearly as a colleague and friend
And pray for all those whose heart will find it difficult to mend.