Health Authority CEO bids farewell to Hay River

One more year.
That’s what Hay River Health and Social Services Authority (HRHSSA) CEO Al Woods was thinking as he inched ever closer to retirement. Woods, who has been in charge of health care in Hay River since taking over from former CEO Paul Rosebush on Dec. 1, 2008, will remain in Hay River until May 14 to help new CEO Sue Cullen get settled. As the end of his 18-month term as CEO neared, Woods admitted he began to fret about his decision to leave.
“You start wondering did you do the right thing?” Woods, 64, said Thursday. “Another year would have been nice … I would have enjoyed another year. Family comes first and I have to make sure I look after that side as well.”

A former CEO at the Stanton Health and Social Services Authority in Yellowknife, Woods acted as the interim CEO of HRHSSA on two occasions before assuming the role full-time a year and a half ago. In 2004, Woods acted as interim CEO for nine months following the departure of Wes Drodge. Three years later, Woods was called on again to return as interim CEO after the resignation of Paul Vieira.
“The reason that I’ve kept coming back is because of the people, and the quality of skills that people bring to the services,” he said. “I will miss that and the daily decision-making and the team meetings that we have.”
With only weeks left in his career, Woods said he will miss the people who were part of his daily life the most: members of the authority, other authority CEOs, and others within the Department of Health and Social Services.
“Everybody works very closely up here, so I will miss the interactions with them” he said. “They’re great people.”
Being the smallest community Woods has ever lived in, he admitted he’s grown to love Hay River’s happy demeanor.
“I have never been in a community that is so friendly,” he said. “People here don’t care what you do. They just care about you.”
When Woods came back in 2008, his family put plans to build their dream cottage in Manitoba on hold. After spending some time with his wife, Patty, and their children at their apartment in Calgary, Woods said he plans to keep himself busy by playing golf, doing yard work and building their new cottage.
“But come wintertime, I’ll probably become bored and look for something else to do,” he admitted. “I find retirement is not what I had envisioned. I just find you don’t get the interactions with people you do when you’re working.”
With Patty, a registered nurse, planning to continue working, Woods said traveling isn’t on the agenda – at least not yet.
“I’ll do anything. I don’t mind the thoughts of going to work at Canadian Tire or something like that,” he said with a chuckle. “As long as I have something to do, I’ll be all right.”
While admitting it was difficult to leave his mark on the Authority during his two tenures as interim CEO, Woods said his main tasks were team building and helping the Authority plan for its future this time around.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in 18 months,” he said. Woods said he is proud of the Authority’s plan to expand the current mammography program to take in women from Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, as well as plans to open the Supported Living Centre’s final residence and day-program building next month.
Work is also progressing on building a new regional health centre to replace the aging H.H. Williams Hospital. The needs assessment was already complete prior to Woods’ arrival. The operational and functional plans have since been completed, as has the soil testing on both proposed sites: where the ENR base currently sits and the “Sun Dog” site across the highway from Super A. Schematic drawings will be drawn up once the decision on a location has been made.
“We have really moved that whole project forward,” Woods said, noting the facility will have a midwifery program.
“This community is going to be extremely proud of this new facility.”
The new facility could be completed as soon as 2014, and Woods said he intends to be there in person to watch the doors open.
“I’ve already let them know I want an invitation to come back up and be here for the opening,” he said.
“It’ll be great, and people here will be extremely proud of it.”