Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Dubbo Council ‘deeply saddened’ by employee’s suicide

Dubbo Regional Council has released a lengthy media statement in relation to a story that featured on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair TV program last night regarding the death of former Council employee, Mark Finlayson, who committed suicide in 2018.

It followed the release of findings from a Workers Compensation Commission independent tribunal that examined the circumstances of Mr Finlayson’s death in relation to his employment with the Council.

It found that the stress of working for Dubbo Regional Council had contributed to his suicide.

His wife, Thea, told A Current Affair that her husband had been overworked and under-resourced in his role and was simply told by Council he could quit if he couldn’t cope.

“They came to him and said, ‘Well, look, you’ll have to resign your position’, and for that to happen to Mark, that was the most catastrophic thing that could have happened to him,” Ms Finlayson said.

Council eventually found Mr Finlayson an alternative role, but by then, his wife says the stress had made him physically unwell.

“He was physically shaking, he was starting to sweat, he was perspiring a lot and he was sleeping even less, so at this stage I said ‘Mark, we have to go to the doctor, we have to go because I am starting to get really worried,'” Ms Finlayson said.

“We talked about a plan and the plan was we were going to go back to the doctor in the morning,” she says.

Tragically, the loving father of two took his own life that very evening.

Thea Finlayson.

The Commission has ordered Council to pay Mr Finlayson’s wife almost $800,000, on top of funeral costs and weekly compensation to his two daughters.

Mr Finlayson had been a stormwater engineer for Dubbo Council for almost 20 years.

He was promoted to manage infrastructure and planning in 2017, when the NSW Government amalgamated councils across the state.

“The passing of Mark Finlayson deeply saddened and affected staff from all corners of Dubbo Regional Council,” said Chief Executive Officer, Dean Frost.

“To this day, Mark remains very much top of mind for staff who worked alongside him, and those who worked in Council at the same time as Mark,” he said.

“It is Mark Finlayson’s legacy, and the ongoing work of his wife Thea and family, who have championed mental health awareness that drives and motivates us to not only better understand mental health issues, but how we as an organisation recognise, respond to and support those affected by mental health.”

He said that since Mark’s passing in August of 2018, Dubbo Regional Council had made significant organisational and policy changes to better equip, protect and support our most valuable asset – our people.

“Since early 2019, we’ve worked closely with mental health providers to develop and shape a mental health policy and framework from the ground up.”

“The purpose of the strategy was to focus not only on the physical wellbeing of our people but also the mental, social and emotional wellbeing. We’ve introduced mental health training, a first for the organisation that continues to rollout and is part of each and every employees training and development.”

In October 2019, Council’s Executive Leadership Team approved the implementation of the Mental Health Training Framework and partnered with Lifeline, as a recognised and reputable local organisation to deliver training.  

During 2020, 32 workshops were delivered with 445 people attending; keeping in mind COVID-19 affected more/regular face-to-face workshops. 

“During COVID-19, Dubbo Regional Council developed a specific wellbeing support plan for staff providing practical ideas for staff on how to look after their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing during the pandemic.”

“A corporate wellbeing specialist was engaged to facilitate four wellbeing webinars for all staff. The webinars were available to all staff and contained key information about ‘recharging’, sleep, social connection and holistic wellbeing strategies.”

He said senior leaders at Dubbo Regional Council “supported the wellbeing of their staff as well as themselves, by improving their connection with staff”.

“Tool box resources were developed to build leader capability, so leaders could support their staff confidently during a difficult and uncertain time.”

So far in 2021, Council has hosted three mental health chat sessions with more than 50 people registering to attend.

Council also runs regular code of conduct and bullying and harassment training. Between 2019 to now, 468 people have completed code of conduct training.

“Council could not have achieved the significant changes to our mental health and wellbeing policies without the direct input from people such as Mark’s family, our mental health providers, the executive of Council who since Mark’s passing have passionately supported and driven organisational change, and the important feedback from our own staff. That feedback required us to have honest and ongoing conversations about mental health and wellbeing, and how we can improve.” 

Mr Frost said Council worked closely with Mark’s family to construct an area along one of the riverside open space projects Mark designed to be a place of remembrance and reflection.

“Council planned every part of the area in line, and in close consultation with Mark’s family,” he said.

“What Council didn’t plan was the effect COVID-19 and Health Orders would have on restricting the size and scale Mark’s family sought to have in that particular area to host an event that officially recognised the site.

“Council remains committed to seeing this family request through and wishes to apologise for any further anguish any delays have caused.”

“Our thoughts forever remain with the Finlayson family. We as an organisation and a community remain forever grateful for Mark’s service and dedication in life; and in memory, his legacy has been our motivation to bring about urgent, ongoing and much-needed change to the mental health and wellbeing of our people.”

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