July 5, 2022

Meet John Dermanakis – Operations Director, Northern Area Mental Health Service

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System made significant recommendations regarding the way mental health services are organised, integrated and governed, and proposed reforms in north and west metropolitan Melbourne. These reforms will lead to a more accessible, responsive and well-resourced mental health service system over the coming months and years.

Northern Health is now a designated Mental Health Service and plays a key role in the implementation of these reforms.

This week, we are welcoming Northern Area Mental Health Services and North West Area Mental Health Services to Northern Health. We are also welcoming the staff of Merv Irvine Nursing Home and McLellan House.

Collectively, this makes us the third largest Mental Health Service in Victoria.

Today, we speak to John Dermanakis – Operations Director, Northern Area Mental Health Service, to understand his role and get to know him better.

John, let’s start with your coffee order?

Pretty boring. Just your average latte with one sugar. Occasionally, if I’m feeling adventurous, I will swap in almond milk.

Can you tell us about your role and what it entails?

I trained as an Occupational Therapist and, after a few years of practice, I was encouraged to obtain clinical leadership roles which then led to management roles. So my current role, as Operations Director, is a senior management role that blends management and leadership tasks. It’s a broad and diverse role, that in essence, aims to maximise the business, operational, people and financial management of the service, always with the purpose of having the tools and resources to drive best patient care. I work together and closely with our Director of Clinical Services and more broadly with our leadership team to set directions for the service. We spend a fair bit of time monitoring, reviewing and engaged in continuous improvement.

What does a typical day look like for you?

More meetings than I would like. Now that we are learning to live with COVID-19, my days will return to being present across our four sites, understanding and helping to resolve service challenges. My most important function is to support, mentor and supervise senior staff so they can run their programs to the very best of their ability. I have responsibility for all operational requirements and, together with others, much of my time is also spent on monitoring, reviewing and seeking service improvement. I also field many phone calls and meetings with our partner agencies, to build service relationships and jointly advocate for and work towards system reform – and now implementing the Royal Commission recommendations.

What excites you about your role?

I’ve been in this role for eight years, and in mental health for 30. What I love most is that every day is completely unique. I cherish that I can be presented with something that has never quite happened in an identical way before, so there’s never an opportunity for this role to become mundane or routine.

I also love that this role affords me the opportunity to positively influence so many people, including our staff. But, more critically, I can play my part to ensure there are better services for our consumers. The Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health Services, provided a blueprint, which will finally bring mental health into everyone’s consciousness. I am thrilled that in some small way, I will be playing my part to bring this grand vision to fruition on the ground.

The best bit of all these major reforms is that, for the first time during my career, people don’t run away when we talk about mental health. The media saturation, the general desire for better understanding, better interventions and community integration, does mean that we all are taking mental health seriously, and that is just absolutely fabulous.

What are some of the challenges of this role?

In so many ways, we have similar issues to those being felt generally across the health system. We have constant battles to fill workforce shortages. As we work in mental health, the demand for our services has increased significantly, particularly over the past few years. It’s great to know that change is happening and we will be able to respond to the needs of our consumers better than we have before. The awareness and understanding of mental health issues is also growing. In the past, we have battled against societal stigma and we are one of the few branches of medicine where many of our consumers and patients don’t want or don’t believe they need to see us.

Thankfully, the future is looking much brighter and so people don’t need to suffer in silence any more. This is the biggest change I have seen during my entire career.

Lastly, what would people be most surprised to know about you?

I was actually born on the high seas. My parents had immigrated to Australia in the late 50s and then decided to return to Greece to live, a decade later. This idea only lasted a year and my mother fell pregnant with me whilst in Greece. They decided to return to Australia so that my brother and I could have a better life. I was born 24 or so hours prior to reaching Melbourne. The story recounted my entire life, was that bad weather delayed their sail from their last stop in Fremantle for two days, otherwise I would have made it.