Outgoing Dementia Australia CEO reflects on her time at the helm

Last updated on 16 November 2023

Maree McCabe AM will finish her tenure as Dementia Australia’s CEO in mid-2024. [Source: LinkedIn]

Major change is afoot at one of Australia’s leading peak bodies, Dementia Australia, after the announcement of succession plans for their CEO, Maree McCabe AM, and Chair, Professor Graeme Samuel AC.

Ms McCabe has enjoyed a successful 13-year tenure as CEO, which included the past seven years at Dementia Australia and six years with Alzheimer’s Australia VIC prior to the unification of national, state and territory organisations. Professor Samuel was also a key force behind the unification of the Federation of Alzheimer’s Australia and the advancement of Dementia Australia. 

Sadly, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Professor Samuel will finish as Chair on November 23 while Ms McCabe will continue to lead the organisation until July 1, 2024. Speaking to hello leaders, Ms McCabe said it was a big step to depart but the timing is right for Dementia Australia to continue to evolve and remain agile for the people it supports.

“This has been a role I’ve absolutely loved and whoever comes into that will be very fortunate because it is an extraordinary organisation. As a CEO you need to know when it is time [to move on] and I think that the organisation is in a fabulous position, we have achieved so much and it’s only possible to achieve these things with an amazing team,” Ms McCabe said.

“Over the last few years, a lot has happened and unification [of Alzheimer’s Australia] was the start of that. The purpose of unifying was to make things better for people living with dementia in the areas of advocacy, service development, speaking with one voice and being more financially sustainable and we’ve achieved these goals. I think now is a good time to step away from the organisation and hand over the reins.”

“The future is evolving, it’s not fixed, and it is really important that as an organisation we remain agile to the needs of people living with dementia which will change over time,” Ms McCabe added.

Putting people first

Spearheading Dementia Australia’s success over the past seven years has been its ability to include and promote the voices of people with a living experience of dementia. Although the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety may have provided a confronting view of aged care in Australia, it afforded Dementia Australia the chance to effectively inform and support the sector.

“A few years ago we did a huge survey looking at what the strategy of Dementia Australia would be and we asked two key questions: ‘What is it that people living with dementia most need and want’ and ‘What is it that Dementia Australia is best positioned to deliver’,” Ms McCabe explained.

“What it came back with, overwhelmingly, was that people living with dementia wanted a more timely diagnosis, quality dementia care and also a reduction in stigma and discrimination. The Royal Commission could not have come at a better time because the inquiry into aged care and into care for people living with dementia was part of that.”

“All of the recommendations that Dementia Australia made to the Royal Commission were included in the Final Report and those aged care reforms are now in the process of being implemented.”

Ms McCabe said that truly acknowledging the needs, concerns and preferences of people living with dementia and being informed by them is a key accomplishment for the aged care industry. Dementia Australia will continue to support providers and staff by raising awareness towards future initiatives, including mandatory dementia education for all staff.

Recognising her peers

Professor Samuel’s time with Dementia Australia will be long remembered. His influence on dementia in Australia is far from over, too, as he will continue as Chair of Dementia Australia Research Foundation, among other responsibilities. Ms McCabe labelled his impact as extraordinary. 

“Graeme led the unification and he was such a strong stand that Alzheimer’s Australia unify and move from a federated body to a unified body. What it gave us is a much more powerful voice for people living with dementia,” she said.

“One of the things about Graeme’s leadership that has been so inspiring is his focus always on people living with dementia and where we could make a difference for people living with dementia, their families and their carers. We would not be in the strong position that we are today had it not been for his leadership as Chair.”

Merran Kelsall AO will replace Professor Samuel from November 23 having joined the Dementia Australia Board earlier this year. She is an experienced leader, recently completing her term as President and Chair of the accounting body CPA Australia.

“I’m very much looking forward to working with Merran, she’s a very experienced Chair and certainly has some strong achievements in her career. I think she will bring a different focus to Dementia Australia [but] still on people living with dementia which is the core of our work,” Ms McCabe added.

“She has a real elegance around processes and systems and is also a strong leader. I’m looking forward to working with her, learning from her, and achieving some of the things that are important to her in the time I have before I finish.”

While speaking to hello leaders, Ms McCabe also touched on her excitement towards new technologies, medications and evidence that will continue to modernise and personalise the caring experience for people living with dementia. She viewed the technologies and medicines as the perfect complement for Dementia Australia’s next leadership wave.

“I am sure that Dementia Australia will continue to flourish in the future under new leadership. I am excited about the possibilities of what is possible for people living with dementia and the organisation over this time,” Ms McCabe said. 

“I think it’s in a great position to go to the next step, whatever that step is, but it will always be what’s in the best interests of people living with dementia, their families and their carers.”

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