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Familiar face appointed General Manager SMHS

December 21, 2012

Familiar face appointed General Manager SMHS

A familiar face in the Canterbury Health System has been appointed to the role of General Manager Specialist Mental Health Services (SMHS).

Toni Gutschlag steps into the role from January, where she takes over from Sandra Walker who left at the end of August this year. Mary Gordon, CDHB’s Executive Director of Nursing has been acting General Manager for the past four months.

Toni brings with her almost 20 years experience of working in mental health for the Canterbury Health System and is enthusiastic about her new appointment.

“I can’t wait. There is such a lot happening across the health system it’s an exciting time to be joining the mental health division.”

Toni says a huge amount of change has occurred in mental health, the main focus being a shift from an inpatient and residential based system to an orientation on community care.

Having both a clinical and policy based background, Toni has gained a wide overview in the years since her health career began as a new graduate social worker in 1994.

Toni says as a student studying social work, she had never thought about working in mental health services but after being encouraged to do a fieldwork placement in the area it opened her eyes up to the possibilities and opportunities within the sector.

She first worked in psychiatric services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Over the following years and in between starting a family, Toni moved onto working in general adult community services before moving into project management.

In the mid-2000s Toni was seconded to work one day per week in Planning and Funding. This lead on became a full time position as Specialist Mental Health portfolio manager, which later evolved into the Team Leader of Mental Health, Older Persons Health and Healthy Eating Healthy Action.

“It’s nice to come back to mental health. I’m really looking forward to it being my sole focus.”

Toni says mental health affects everyone in the community and has become more of a talking point since the earthquakes.

A positive is it’s broken down barriers and stigma people might have previously associated with mental illness.

“As a community there’s a much greater awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing,” Toni says.

“Through our experiences we have learned the importance of taking good care of ourselves and our families from a mental well being perspective.”

Toni acknowledges mental health care can have its challenges.

“When things don’t go well we need to learn from those experiences. But it is also important to highlight that across the mental health system there are people doing extraordinary things on a daily basis to ensure people’s needs are met. Being part of that is a real privilege.”


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