Dr Penny Flett is a familiar name to many in the profession, particularly those working with older patients. Her work in aged care as Brightwater’s CEO has seen Penny awarded honours such as the Telstra Business Woman of the Year and the Centenary Medal. Her career achievements have been capped by the recent honour of being named WA’s 2008 Australian of the Year.
How has being awarded the 2008 WA Australian of the Year impacted on you personally and professionally?
“It’s an immense honour. It makes me very proud to be a West Australian. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to reach people all over the state and speak up about ageing in our society, the need for good support for people with acquired disabilities, and importantly, the need for all of us to build strong and healthy communities to support people of all ages in the future.”
What has been your biggest career victory?
“There is no such thing as a career victory! Careers are not battles to be won or lost. My career has been one of taking up opportunities as they come up, to keep moving things forward.”
Do you feel you challenge the status quo?
“I always challenge the status quo. There is so much to be done to improve what we do, to build good services for the future, and I am very impatient with complacency, at any level.”
You are a high-profile business leader and often engaged in corporate lectures around WA. What inspires you to put yourself out there?
“I am very happy to talk to anyone and I simply try to respond to the questions that are asked. These tend to be about leadership, women’s roles, and pointing out that real success comes from men and women working well together and understanding each other.”
Have you made a difference in people’s lives?
“I hope I’ve made a difference in people’s lives by countering the doom and gloom about ageing and disability and pointing out all the positive issues. It’s important to speak up for those who have no voice, and that includes my 1600 wonderful staff, many of them doing the job because they love the people. It’s definitely not for the money in this game!”
Brightwater CEO, Telstra Business Woman of the Year, Centenary Medal, and now WA Australian of the Year… what’s next for Dr Penny Flett?
“More hard work, doing what I love!”
Have you had any aspirations to enter politics to help improve aged care and the health system?
If you could change/improve any three things about aged care in WA, what would they be?
“Lighten up the regulation and compliance burden imposed on our system from Canberra. This will encourage good ideas, innovation, and trying out some different models.
Have a mandatory module of gerontology in every university student’s course so that tomorrow’s professionals all have an understanding of the needs of older people.
Persuade the State Government to develop and promulgate a strong long term vision for inter-generational communities.”
What do you feel WA’s doctors can do to improve aged care in WA?
“Most doctors have older patients unless they are an obstetrician or paediatrician. It’s important to understand that an older person’s wellbeing depends not only on very good medical care, but very importantly, the ability for that older person to keep functioning in every respect.”