Mary Anne Stephens has been appointed Diabetes WA’s Board Chair. Here she tells Vanessa Williams why she wants to make a difference in the diabetes space.
When Mary Anne Stephens joined Diabetes WA as a board director in 2015, she had just survived the biggest health scare of her life.
In 2014, Mary Anne was diagnosed with cancer and within days was rushed into surgery where she had a 5.5cm tumour removed.
Luckily for Mary Anne, the surgery was a success and she has been cancer-free for six years.
“You never know how you’re going to feel or how you’re going to react when that kind of news comes to you,” she recalls.
“So it changes your thinking. I say to people now, ‘life is short’ because you don’t know what’s around the corner.”
While she got her first taste of working in the health sector during a stint at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia in Sydney, it was her journey as a cancer survivor that became the driving force to join the Diabetes WA Board and make a difference.
“Health is of keen interest to me because I’m a cancer survivor and I think when something like that happens in your life, you realise how important looking after yourself is,” says Mary Anne, who also became a board director for the WA Country Health Service (WACHS) in 2016.
“For me, it’s about focusing on what you can control. Although type 2 diabetes is a huge and growing challenge in WA and around the world, it is preventable and manageable, so if you are diagnosed, the good news is that you can manage it. It’s very much about better health outcomes and living well and that is what drove me to speak to (former DWA Chair) Dr (Moira) Watson at the time.”
Having over 20 years’ experience in the financial services sector, Mary Anne has brought a diverse set of skills to Diabetes WA.
“The skills that I bring along are corporate finance, risk management, audit, governance, information technology, those are my strengths and I’m looking forward to helping Diabetes WA at a time when we are looking to develop new essential services and expand our reach to anyone who needs support,” she says.
“Being on the board with WACHS, I’ve had the most amazing opportunity to see this beautiful State, I’ve been up as far north as Kalumburu and many spots across the Kimberley and the Pilbara, Geraldton to the Goldfields, and down south to Esperance.”
During her years on the Diabetes WA and WACHS Board, Mary Anne has also gained valuable insights into the health challenges faced by Australians living in regional and remote WA communities.
“There are common challenges right across our regions, often relating to access to health services. Something I remember vividly was my first WACHS regional board meeting when we flew up to Kununurra and then up to Kalumburu,” she recalls.
“You get to see firsthand the impact that diabetes has on people and that there isn’t a simple solution. But it’s clear to me that there is a lot the health system can do to better understand the issues by listening to community and providing the support they need to address it locally.”
As Diabetes WA’s Board Chair, Mary Anne envisions Diabetes WA assisting communities and the health system with a wider focus on the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, innovative new services for those who are overweight or obese, expansion of the Diabetes Telehealth Service and bridging the gap in accessible healthcare for vulnerable populations, particularly among WA’s remote Aboriginal communities, who have among the highest incidence rates of diabetes.
“It’s very exciting for me because having been on the board for five years, I’ve seen the journey Diabetes WA has been on,” she says.
“And as we look forward, I am excited to help Diabetes WA pursue the enormous opportunity we have to deliver our brilliant programs to help people help themselves. The goal we have now is to make the programs accessible to as many people as possible, wherever they live in WA.
“In 2014, we became leaders in telehealth and now it is seen, not only in WA, but nationally, as a critical service. It’s going to get better and go into more communities…it’s great! It’s a different way of delivering what we do and it’s incredibly well-received.”
Born and raised in the USA, Mary Anne moved to Australia 26 years ago after she met her now husband.
The couple lived in Sydney for 17 years before relocating to Perth in 2011.
“I met my husband, who’s Australian, and that’s what brought me to the best Country in the world,” says Mary Anne, who is also a proud mother-of-two.
“We ended up selling our place and we’ve bought a beautiful place here in Perth. I love Western Australia. This is it – I’m never leaving WA.”