Little did Peter Deegan FCCA know that his journey to the office of CFO would lead him from Ireland to rural Zambia, through the icy plains of northern Saskatchewan to the remote rocky shores of the Canadian Maritimes.
Today, the finance chief at Labrador-Grenfell Health oversees a budget of C$193m and is dedicated to serving the healthcare needs of 37,000 people. So how does a financial accountant from Dublin navigate his career through these rugged terrains?
After eight years analysing complex financial instruments in the investment banking world, he set his sights on something completely different.
'I’d been working on my accounting degree at night while working in financial services,' he explains. 'Once I completed it, I was then in a privileged position to give something back.’
‘Back in 2013, the recession was in full flight in Ireland, so it was a good time to explore opportunities elsewhere’
Labrador-Grenfell Health is headquartered in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s four regional health authorities. It provides health and community services to around 37,000 people, including three Indigenous groups: Innu, Inuit and Southern Inuit.
With an operating revenue of C$193m, the organisation employs around 1,500 staff in 22 facilities including three hospitals, three community health centres, 14 community clinics and two long-term care facilities.
As a first step, in 1998 he took his skills to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Solwezi, in Zambia, where he took up the position of financial controller.
'It wasn’t for financial rewards,' says Deegan. 'In many respects I think I got a lot more out of it than I put in. Not only was the work very rewarding, but I would meet my wife Beauty in Zambia, and we now have four children.'
Deegan’s introduction to the world of healthcare began on his return to Dublin in 2001, where he worked as a company accountant for Oxygen Care, a small business that supplied local health providers. It was this exposure, and the inspiration he took from his brother, a nurse in London, that helped him decide to make the healthcare sector his career focus.
Flexibility and opportunity
The shift in sectors was, Deegan says, made possible by his ACCA Qualification, which he gained in 1998. He chose ACCA because of its flexibility and the opportunity to build technical skills.
'The ACCA education was less formal and more open,' he says. 'It was tailored to working in different industries, and you didn’t have to necessarily work for an accounting firm to get your degree.'
In 2013, he achieved his goal as senior finance officer in a public sector health authority across the Atlantic, becoming director of finance at Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority in Saskatchewan's Buffalo Narrows.
Emigrating from Dublin to the frozen plains of northern Saskatchewan is not an everyday event but, as Deegan explains, he was again up for something different.
'Back in 2013, the recession was in full flight in Ireland, so it was a good time to explore opportunities elsewhere,' he says. 'Also, like myself, my wife is a bit of an adventurer and likes to see the world.'
That adventurous spirit was an essential, when Deegan’s family came out to join him in December 2013 at the start of a -30oC cold snap that would last for weeks.
'Coming from Zambia, Beauty had never seen that kind of snow or felt that kind of cold,' says Deegan, 'She was still acclimatising to Ireland, so it was crazy.
'But they made the best of it, he notes. 'The winter is cold, but if you have the right clothes, a good car and get involved in winter activities, then you get through it.'
Three years later, they made their way south to Saskatoon, where Deegan took up the post of director, finance and corporate services, at the Health Quality Council of Saskatchewan.
‘You can now check someone’s heart rate remotely. That no doubt is going to be the way forward, and making investments in that area will pay off pretty quickly’
Vice president, corporate services and CFO, Labrador-Grenfell Health, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Director, finance and corporate services, Health Quality Council of Saskatchewan, Canada
Director of finance, Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority, Saskatchewan
Director of corporate services, Co-operation Ireland, Dublin and Belfast, Ireland/UK
Project accountant/financial accountant, Health Service Executive - Northern Area, Dublin, Ireland
Company accountant, Oxygen-Care, Dublin, Ireland
Financial controller, Roman Catholic Diocese of Solwezi, Zambia
Financial accountant/investment and derivative analyst (various contracts)
His five-year tenure there ended in 2018 and Deegan headed east to take on the job of CFO at Labrador-Grenfell Health, Newfoundland and Labrador. His portfolio includes budgeting and reporting, contracting, physical infrastructure support, and a host of other responsibilities related to the ongoing management of 22 health facilities scattered across northern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Aside from the financial management agenda, Deegan is also charged with ensuring that his community has the latest technology, methods and procedures in healthcare management, and these are continuously changing.
'There’s pressure year over year to have the latest things, and the bar is always rising,' he says. 'For instance, at the moment we’re upgrading our pharmacies across the region in terms of the way they will operate. So we're going to have to invest quite a bit of money in the infrastructure that supports them.'
Similarly, Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on healthcare delivery. Virtual care has taken off in a big way, he says, which has a great benefit for his community – now and in the future.
'We're a health region that has a lot of remote communities,' Deegan explains. 'There's no road in the wintertime so we have scheduled air travel to bring people to hospitals and even just for appointments.
'Now, many people can get consultations over the internet or telehealth, and that’s becoming more sophisticated. For example, you can now check someone’s heart rate remotely. That no doubt is going to be the way forward, and making investments in that area will pay off pretty quickly.'
In terms of the rewards working in healthcare, Deegan is clear. 'Your feet are kept on the ground in terms of understanding the challenges of healthcare staff and the public health care system as whole,' he says.
'Every day is different in healthcare; you never get bored.'
'If you want to get an entry point, think about going somewhere off the beaten track.'
'You need the technical skills first to understand public sector accounting. You can't just come fresh from the private sector and expect to get the top.'
'Having human resource management skills is essential. If you're a CFO, a big part of your role is managing others and showing directors how to get the most out of their people.'
'As a CFO, you need to delegate and focus on strategic goals.'