Three notable contributors to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) were recognised in last month’s Australia Day Awards.
Former Central Operations Chief Executive Officer John Lynch was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), while past Federation Chair Amanda Vanstone was named an Officer (AO) and former Central Operations Board Director Glenise Coulthard was named a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia.
John was recognised specifically for his long-standing service to the Flying Doctor, starting in Broken Hill in 1986.
“Being a Broken Hill boy, the bush is significant and should always be significant to the DNA of the Royal Flying Doctor Service,” John said.
Joining Central Operations as Chief Financial Officer in 1991, John helped guide the RFDS team through a period of significant transformation.
“Every day I would wake knowing someone in our team would make a difference to someone, somewhere throughout the day,” John said.
“We started negotiations with (Swiss aircraft manufacturer) Pilatus in 1991 and agreed to purchase the aircraft in 1993 by paying a non-refundable deposit. It was a bold and brave move, but a well-researched and well-founded one.
“We were the global launch customer for the Pilatus PC-12 – it was an exciting moment and then we standardised the fleet over time.”
When John commenced as CEO of RFDS Central Operations in 2000 the organisation assisted over 38,000 patients every year, including 6,000 aeromedical evacuations, operated 10 medically-equipped aircraft across three aeromedical bases and managed one remote primary health facility.
By his retirement, the organisation was conducting over 50,000 episodes of patient care per annum, including 9,000 aeromedical evacuations, and operating a fleet of 18 medically-equipped Pilatus PC12 aircraft across four aeromedical bases as well as managing three remote primary health facilities in outback SA.
Ms Loretta Reynolds, Chairman of RFDS Central Operations, said John’s 32-year contribution to the RFDS – including 18 years as CEO – had been remarkable.
“John’s passion and commitment to meeting the needs of our patients has been second to none, balanced with his outstanding business acumen which directed unprecedented growth and financial security of the organisation,” Ms Reynolds said.
Throughout John’s tenure as CEO, RFDS Central Operations also strengthened its footprint in Darwin, remodelled its NT tourism facilities, opened new purpose-built bases in Port Augusta and Adelaide and initiated the introduction of the world’s first purpose-built aeromedical jet, the RFDS Medi-Jet 24.
John said he was “very excited and proud, but also extremely humbled” to receive the OAM.
“No one individual can take credit for any achievement by themselves – apart from, perhaps, tying their own shoelaces,” he said.
“Together, we did some wonderful things, always with the patient at the forefront.”
Glenise Coulthard’s decades-long commitment to Indigenous health was also recognised at this year’s Australia Day Awards.
Ms Coulthard was named a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of the Australia, recognising the significant contributions she made as the RFDS Central Operations’ longest-serving Board Director.
“I always heard about it as a child, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, growing up in a little place like Leigh Creek,” Ms Coulthard told The Transcontinental.
"I was really honoured when the members voted, but I wondered what I had to offer because I came from an education background. Now, I think education and health go very much together.
"If you haven't got the literacy, or the health education, or the confidence to ask questions about your health care then already you are feeling disempowered. Whereas if your education is at a level where you can ask questions then you feel empowered and confident and you can ask questions about treatment and medication."
As Board Director, Ms Coulthard introduced Aboriginal liaison officers to the RFDS health framework and was a strong advocate for needs assessment in remote Indigenous communities.
She took an active role in managing the RFDS’ integration with the ‘Step-Down Unit’ at Port Augusta Hospital, which provides a safe place and reduces isolation for patients from remote communities accessing health care in Port Augusta.