JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
NIAGARA FALLS – It has been said for everything there is a season.
So when when Mike Somerville took stock of his life and career earlier this year, he decided the time was right to retire.
It’s not that he looks forward to giving up his job as executive director of the Greater Niagara General Hospital Foundation, a position he has held for the past five and a half years. Nothing could be further from the truth. He enjoyed the work, the people, and, yes, even the challenges.
But Somerville had come to believe he was at a crossroads personally – as is the organization he cares so deeply about.
“I’ve been working the last 50 years,” said Somerville, sitting behind his desk inside the foundation offices tucked away inside the Allied Health building at the Greater Niagara General Hospital complex.
“I don’t leave with any regrets, but I do know that I will miss the people, the staff, volunteers and donors.”
Somerville turned 65 in October. He started thinking about retirement this past spring.
First, there was the personal health issue that gave him reason to pause and reflect on his future.
“Fortunately, I dodged a bullet,” said Someville, “But it was a wakeup call.”
Meanwhile, a project that had been a big part of his working life for the past several years – the It’s Our Time capital campaign – had just wrapped up.
Somerville said he had wanted to stay on through the completion of that campaign – and did – but with other major initiatives looming on the horizon, he feels it’s the right time to turn the reins over to someone else.
Niagara Health System hospital supervisor Kevin Smith released a report earlier this year recommending the provincial government commit to building a new Niagara South hospital to replace GNGH along with hospitals in Welland, Port Colborne and Fort Erie.
The government has yet to decide whether to build a new hospital. The alternative, however, is to spend upwards of $1 billion fixing up the existing ones.
“Either way,” says Somerville,”it’s another major capital campaign. I’d rather turn it over now.”
In the short term, the GNGH Foundation has agreed to help raise the $2.4 million needed to replace the hospital’s CT scanner – a critical piece of diagnostic equipment for a busy community hospital with operating rooms, outpatient clinics and emergency department that doubles as the regional stroke centre.
“It (the CT scan) is still functioning. It’s still perfectly safe,” said Somerville. “But that’s our newest big project we need to take on.”
At the same time, discussions are continuing about the possibility of merging hospital foundations in Niagara.
“There has been some preliminary discussions based on Dr. Smith’s report about what the future looks like,” said Somerville. “They (the foundation board members) have come to no conclusions yet.”
Asked if he feels a merger is the right direction, Somerville said: “Personally, I think it is when you look at the way health care is changing.”
For decades, hospitals like GNGH were almost islands unto themselves, serving primarily the residents of the communities in which they are located.
But for a variety of factors, including the significant cost of major pieces of medical equipment and the availability of specialists, has caused a realigning of services.
For example, eye surgery has been consolidated at Welland County General. Until a few years ago, eye surgeries were done at five NHS sites.
With the opening of the new St. Catharines hospital in March, new cancer and cardiac care programs will be coming to Niagara. The new hospital will, in many ways, serve all of Niagara.
GNGH already serves as the designated stoke centre for the region. With one foundation, donors would still be able to earmark where they want their money to go.
But at the same time, there won’t be any overlapping or duplication of function.
“I think it gives donors more opportunities and more options,” said Somerville.
Niagara Falls Coun. Joyce Morocco, who was chairwoman of the GNGH Foundation at the time Somerville was hired, said she agrees.
Back then, the foundation was “really struggling” to maintain its identity.
“I think now times have changed,” said Morocco. “We have to look at doing things on a larger scale.”
As for Somerville, Morocco said his retirement is well earned, but he will be “sorely missed.”
At the time Somerville returned to GNGH in 2007 (he had worked there in the 1990s), the foundation had been without an executive director for about six months.
The organization needed someone with strong local roots, good connections with community partners and a solid track record in fundraising.
“Mike Somerville was certainly a perfect fit,” said Morocco.
“He’s a real team player, well respected. He was a huge asset.”
Somerville’s last official day is Dec. 31.
Well-known businesswoman and community fundraiser Janie Palmer has accepted a six-month contract to fill on an interim basis the position Somerville leaves behind. Her tenure will be contingent on the outcome of discussions to merge foundations.