Professor Alan Owen Lectures
Find out more about the Annual Professor Alan Owen Lectures, including synopses and full lecture video recordings.
Professor Alan Owen
Campaigner For Better Health Care - A Life Devoted to Better Outcomes for Patients
Professor Alan Owen was a passionate advocate, a social networker extraordinaire, a humble teacher and an inspiration to us all. He died on November 25, 2012, aged just 60.
Alan came to work at the Centre for Health Service Development – or CHSD – in 1996. He was soon joined by his wife Linda Adamson. There were just a handful of us back then. We soon formed a successful working partnership and (what is now) the Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI) is a legacy of our partnership over the last 16 years.
Alan had a consistent interest in health services policy and planning in general, and community health in particular. He was committed to promoting the capabilities of community-based health services and their integration and coordination with other services at a local level. He made important contributions to service design and evaluation projects in the areas of community support and aged care, mental health, palliative care and disability.
Early in his career, Alan contributed to campaigns to influence resource allocation and to achieve community health representation more formally through the state and national Community Health Association, by serving on Boards, producing newsletters, submissions and policy papers. He also had a critical role as health policy advisor role for the Australian Council of Social Service.
A consistent theme across many of his projects was the importance of collecting and sharing information that can be used to improve the capacity to actively plan a service system. His research interests focussed on developing methods to match patient/client characteristics to the level and type of services commensurate with an individual’s needs. This led to further research questions; for example, how best to control for the variability of patient characteristics so as to be able to examine differences in service provider behaviour and referral decisions; and how to examine differences in client outcomes resulting from different service interventions or models of care. In community care, this work led to improvements in routine assessment systems through the use of standardised measures of service user characteristics.
Throughout his career Alan contributed to a range of community service activities as well as to collective efforts in health services research. He had a continuing interest in NSW and national community health services, from the beginnings of the program in the 1970s to our last review in 2008. Alan had a number of NSW Ministerial appointments, including the review of the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital in 1993, as a part-time member of the NSW Guardianship Tribunal from 1996-2009 and as a part-time member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal in NSW since 1994.
Alan leaves a lasting professional contribution. He was a strong advocate for better mental health, aged care and community care. He believed passionately in consumer empowerment underpinned by strong public policy that emphasises fairness and decency. His work with the guardianship board and the mental health tribunal is evidence of that.
He used his extensive networks to help position us firmly in the wider strategic and policy context. His strategic thinking and sense of what is important helped shape how we work. Alan’s command of the “big picture” enabled him to see connections that were not immediately obvious to others. He was always generous in sharing these insights and providing guidance, encouragement and, often, relevant literature that would become instrumental in shaping our thinking on an issue.
In an environment where the next deadline is always looming, Alan helped us place our work in context and see its implications more clearly. He always had an eye to the next project, and was alert to future directions in which we should actively seek further work in order to build on our strengths. Borrowing from his brother Neville Owen and his colleague Adrian Bauman, Alan spent the last 16 years stressing to all of us the need to balance “realism with rigour”. We think he taught us well. His other professional legacy is that Alan supported and mentored multiple staff and students as well as aged, community and primary care professionals over many years. Alan always said that he had many more important things to do than to spend his days completing his PhD. And he was right. But that did not stop him quietly encouraging and mentoring so many other people to further their education and to set their professional goals high.
Alan had a sharp intellect and a quick wit. His clear values and his understanding of the complexity of the health system made it easy for him to work out what was important. He didn’t write a paper. He crafted it. He made us laugh. We continue to miss him every day.