“Mr. COACH” Steps Down – Don Newsham: Shepherding COACH to Next Level as Inaugural CEO

“You should know that I plan to retire in two to three years.”

This was one of the early conversations I had with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Don Newsham when I started with COACH in September 2009. We call that Don math in the office! In early January this year, he formally announced that he would step down from COACH May 31, 2015. So, as COACH celebrates its 40th anniversary, we also say goodbye to our inaugural CEO.

We’ve started to see a wave of boomers in retirement phase and many are looking back. It’s interesting to see how people make an impact on an industry and examine their legacy. People who work in health informatics (HI) and telehealth are very passionate about what they do and their roles in healthcare. So what about Don? What is his legacy and what did his work mean to the HI community and COACH?

It has always been clear that he cares about COACH and the people in the HI community. While interviewing him, his respect for those who came before him was clearly evident.

Why did you put your name forward for the CEO position?

“The Executive Director had resigned, the association management company (AMC) contract had concluded and COACH had built the financial resources to take on a part-time CEO. At that time, Shelagh Maloney (President, 2006 – 2008) had acknowledged that COACH needed to have a dedicated HI resource to move program ideas and creation into reality. “Since I had flexibility to take on a part- time role and reduce my other roles to part-time – with the blessing of Sierra Systems at the time – I thought I was suited to take on the position.”

What does being the first CEO of COACH mean to you?

“It means a lot of freedom and responsibility. Being the inaugural CEO meant that there were no structures or procedures in place. I learned from other CEOs and Executive Directors in the HI and association industries. I felt a huge responsibility and a great need and desire to be successful and serve COACH well as the first CEO. Someone told me early on that it was my responsibility to do it well and do it right.”

What has been your greatest challenge?

“The greatest challenge and one of the greatest joys has been managing the growth of the association. When I became CEO in 2006 – 2007, membership had just broken the 1,000 mark and in 2014 – 2015 we have just reached 2,000. We went from a revenue size of $400,000 to $1.4 million. We have grown our programs and services and our staffing has gone from 0.5 to 10 staff and I am very proud of that.”

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

“From the start, the goal was to grow the organization. COACH is a stellar, respected, valued institute in the country and beyond our borders. It has been a privilege to help COACH become The Voice of HI in Canada, speak for HI and represent the community and profession with all levels of government and industry, both nationally and internationally, and I’m very proud of these accomplishments.”

Tell me about the merger with the Canadian Society of Telehealth (CST). How did it come about and what are your thoughts about it five years later?

“The CST/COACH merger was a watershed event. The confidence that both CST and COACH leadership had in bringing together the HI and telehealth communities has resulted in a strong linkage and the leveraging of telehealth technologies into broader use across Canada. The CTF: Canada’s Telehealth Forum, established in conjunction with the merger, is COACH’s largest forum with over 600 members across the country. “Bringing these two communities together has been hugely successful, with one important result being COACH and CTF hosting an international scientific conference, Global Telehealth 2015, for the first time. GT2015 took place immediately before the e-Health 2015 Conference.”

How has COACH changed since you became CEO?

“COACH’s impact in the HI community has grown and changed over the years, particularly in terms of our professionalism program. The HI Health Information Management Human Resources Report, for example, has become the standard-bearer for human resources in the industry. Plus, COACH HIP® Role Profiles has become an essential tool for identifying roles and responsibilities and CPHIMS-CA has broken new ground as the credential for Canadian HI professionals. We have also made phenomenal advances in other areas of professional practice, including the launch of the  eSafety Guidelines and growth of the Guidelines for the Protection of Health Information Series.”

Partnerships with other organizations have become a big part of the COACH “way of life.” Are there any in particular that you are most proud of?

“There are two levels of partnerships that COACH undertakes –  national  and regional partnerships. I am most proud that when there is a multi- association task to do like the HR  study, the community comes together  to collaborate. COACH has achieved the respect of our national agencies and partners and they are willing to come to the table to work with us when there is a specific need for the industry.”

What will you miss the most?

“The people – the staff, our team at the office, seeing people at events and activities. There is a whole variety of people across the country that I have gotten to know and meet and chat with. The people are what I will miss the most.”

What advice would you give the next COACH CEO?

“Get out there! It is really important to get out and be with the community and with members. It is rewarding, but also necessary to meet, to understand and to know what is happening across the country in HI and then reflect on that in the office with the programs and services.”

If you had to do it over again, would you choose the same path?

“Absolutely! I wouldn’t change my career in any way. I have had the most wonderful career that I could ever imagine. Working in the private, public, regional, provincial and federal arenas and connecting with business CEOs – I have been the most fortunate person.”

What would you like your legacy to be?

“I would really like my legacy to be that I helped enable COACH to be a respected and viable organization in Canada and the healthcare system. Steven Huesing founded the organization and shepherded COACH for the first 25 years. I like to think that I have shepherded COACH to the next level for the past 10 years. I hope that I have served the vision of our founders and past Boards and our collective vision of what COACH means to the members and to the community.”

Do you have any other comments?

“As much as we talk about COACH growing revenue, programs and services, COACH really is about people and their stories. Its essence is made up of the thousands of people who work in the community, from students and emerging professionals, to leaders and volunteers, and the staff who conduct the work of COACH.”

It is clear that Don’s contribution to healthcare and COACH over the years has been great. On this 40th anniversary, we congratulate Don on his achievements in helping to create an important role for COACH and the COACH CEO within

the community. On behalf of the members, Board and staff, I wish Don a wonderful travel-filled retirement. And to COACH, cheers to the next 40 years!

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