Order of Australia honour for ex-private hospitals leader

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Former president of the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA), Dr Leon Clark, has just found out his wife is good at keeping secrets.

Dr Clark was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List – and his wife already knew all about it.

“It was a total surprise, my wife was asked for referees about 18 months ago and she’s held that secret all this time, which speaks volumes about her,” he said, laughing.

“It’s just such an honour, especially at this time of my life when I thought everyone had forgotten about me.”

Dr Clark received the honour for significant service to medical administration and to healthcare delivery.

He said one of the highlights of his career was being involved in the early days of IVF in Australia in the 1980s.

“Back then, Australia was leading the world in IVF work and research, everyone wanted an Australian to speak at their conferences,” Dr Clark said.

“I did a lot of overseas travel, and looking back I’m sure my family suffered a bit.

“But the ability to help couples have babies, when they had been told there was no hope, that’s very rewarding.”

Dr Clark spent 11 years on the board of the APHA, including two years as president.

“It was a different time for private hospitals, there had been a decline in the number of people taking up health insurance due to the cost, which was putting an enormous amount of pressure on the public system,” he said.

“The private sector was struggling and the public system was overwhelmed. We lobbied the government very strongly at that time.

“The government introduced a Medicare surcharge to make private health insurance more attractive to those in upper income groups.

“That created a different environment for private hospitals and for people to access the level of care and accommodation they wanted too.

“So to be able to get private hospitals back on a good financial footing was an achievement.”

Dr Clark added it had been interesting to see how the public and private sectors had worked together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the mid 2000s, we were concerned about the potential for the bird flu to reach pandemic levels and we did a lot of pandemic prep back then, which thankfully wasn’t needed, but it was able to be brought out again and used during COVID,” he said.

“I was particularly concerned back then that the bird flu be taken seriously and it’s good to know that that work we did back then has proved useful.”

APHA CEO Michael Roff, who worked with Dr Clark during his time on the Board and as President, said he was very deserving of the honour.

“Leon gave his time and expertise generously during his time with APHA. He was always available to provide insights to the secretariat and steered the ship well through some challenging times. He had an excellent working relationship with Tony Abbott, who was Health Minister at the time, and was responsible for introducing quality accreditation as a condition of APHA membership before accreditation was mandatory,” he said.

During his career, Dr Clark was the CEO of Sydney Adventist Hospital (San), a director of the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission, and a director of the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards.

“Being the CEO of San was a real privilege and we managed to upgrade a lot there,” he said.

“In fact, one of the wings is now named Clark Tower, which is very nice. So, working in this industry and doing these jobs, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of things and that’s been very nice.”

Dr Clark said he was “still on a couple of boards”, including Medi-Aid, which was founded by Dr James Wright.

The organisation helps find housing for people who retire with very little funds, and also helps older Australians access cataract surgery.

“My interest in helping and empowering consumers goes back to my IVF days, when we negotiated with the government to get Medicare items for IVF,” he said.

“That took two years. I mean, IVF still has a cost associated with it, but not to the extent that it did back in the 1980s. The bottom line is that it’s now available to everyone.”

Dr Clark said after all his achievements, he now looked forward to enjoying his retirement.

“We’re lucky enough to live on the Central Coast of New South Wales, on the waterfront, and we have a little boat,” he said.

“It’s beautiful here, it’s out of the city. And most importantly, we have five children and 10 grandchildren, all in Sydney, so we get to see them all the time, which is wonderful.”

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