Hospitals 22 February 2024

Principal Project Manager Matthew Behn on innovative mental health builds

Our project managers work with contractors and stakeholders to deliver the Victorian Government’s multibillion-dollar health infrastructure program.

This includes planning and building new hospitals and emergency care, mental health and aged care facilities, and delivering new health precincts and models of care to ensure our health system meets the current and future needs of all Victorians.

Matt smiles at the camers

Meet Matthew Behn. Matthew is a Principal Project Manager in the Delivery team at the Victorian Health Building Authority (VHBA).  

Here, Matthew talks about his role working on the Pathway to 144 Mental Health Beds (Mental Health Beds Expansion Program).

What does your role involve?

I've been with VHBA and its previous incarnation for six years. It’s a time of enormous growth in the size of our program and in the capacity of the organisation in terms of the direct project management responsibilities that we've taken on.

The process of managing projects is similar in a lot of industries. In the health space, there's a lot of complexity for scoping the projects and the design outcomes because every health facility is different.
There are standards to be applied across key areas in the health sector, but there's always going to be a need for unique designs that respond to the requirements of the site, consumers, and the health service.

This includes local and regional factors, but also different staffing profiles and models of care across health services influencing design, and then project delivery aspects that need to be considered on top of that. Every day is a new day with various types of challenges.

How do projects come together?

Projects are delivered in phases, so you are generally focused on a specific range of outcomes at a time. Whether that’s briefing and consultant engagement activities, early project initiation activities, or working through the design stage with the architects and the design team and the health services.

There is also preparing for the construction process and the construction phase on site where the project is being delivered and we're working to support the health services in managing the disruption of the construction activities. So, lots of different elements to the role.

These are enhanced if you're working across multiple projects that are working on different time frames, but that also provides you the opportunity to translate or impart some of the lessons that you're learning on one project onto another.

What makes a good project manager?

In project management, we're always trying to improve the process to make the next one better.

You don't have to have a design or construction background. Your focus is on building and developing the team. You need to identify the resources that you require to help deliver the project, and they provide the specialist technical input. Also, there's a lot of engaging with service providers.

Really, it's about communication. In an office or on-site, understanding what the issues are and working with the subject matter experts in developing the right solutions that meet the needs of all the stakeholders involved, and making sure that the right people have the right information at the right time.

I like the early planning stages because that's I think where you've got the most opportunity to influence how the project’s delivered, and what the outcomes might be. 

It's where you look at risks in the project and some of those decisions are made at that time really will determine how well those risks are managed.

Matthew talks about his role as a Principal Project Manager at VHBA

[Image: Matthew Behn smiling]

[On-screen text: Matthew Behn, Principal Project Manager, Victorian Health Building Authority]

[Image: Matthew Behn seated in an office, talking to camera, followed by Matthew and a colleague working on a building plan on screen at his desk]

Matthew Behn: The direct contribution you can make to the quality of life for Victorians is the bottom line. I like the idea of working in the public service, contributing to the outcomes for consumers.

You don't have two days that are the same.

[Image: screen with text: ‘What are you working on?’]

[Image: Matthew and colleagues walking through a construction site of a mental health beds project, followed by aerial and ground views of the Northern Hospital mental health beds project under construction]

Matthew: The Pathway to 144 Mental Health Beds is a really ambitious program. Outcomes from the Royal Commission into Mental Health in Victoria set some really ambitious time frames for the delivery.

We utilised modular construction on three of those sites, which was quite an innovative solution, and we've learned a lot from that process. Lots of challenges but also lots of learnings.

[Image: screen with text: ‘Working in health infrastructure’]

[Image: Matthew and colleagues walking through interior of a building site, followed by Matthew and colleague walking through a corridor in the VHBA offices, and various construction activities]

Matthew: Working in the health space there's a lot more complexity in terms of the scoping of the projects and the design outcomes, but you can't do a standard acute health facility.  

[Image: VHBA and health service staff at the Big Plans facility, walking through a life-sized floor plan of a mental health facility, followed by Matthew and builders viewing the plumbing and wiring of a site under construction]

Matthew: Being able to look at these new facilities from a whole new perspective, working with the lived experience consumers and the health services around what a new model of mental health care might look like. In project management, we're always trying to look to improve the process to make the next one better.

[Image: screen with text: ‘What do you enjoy about your role?’]

[Image: Matthew and colleague reviewing plans in the office, followed by a walk through a construction site corridor with a builder]

Matthew: I like the early planning stages because that's, I think, where you've got the most opportunity to influence how the project's delivered and what the outcomes might be. It's where you look at a lot of the risk in the project.  

I don't have a design background, so it's interesting sitting in those meetings.

[Image: screen with text: ‘What’s new?’]

[Image: Matthew and colleagues smiling and chatting in the VHBA offices, and onsite at construction projects]

Matthew: We've got a great pipeline of projects coming and a great opportunity to directly influence some of those outcomes for some really vulnerable areas of our community.

[Images: A sliding transition screen then displays the text ‘Learn more at vhba.vic.gov.au’ plus the Victorian Health Building Authority and Victoria State Government logos and website link vhba.vic.gov.au]

[End of transcript]

What are you working on?

The program that we're working on now is the Pathway to 144 Mental Health Beds (Mental Health Beds Expansion Program). The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System set some ambitious time frames for the delivery of new acute mental health facilities, and we've been able to meet those to date. This program is a significant investment in the mental health sector, delivering new facilities at the McKellar Centre, in Geelong, Northern Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and the Royal Melbourne Hospital sites.

We’re proud to say the Northern Hospital mental health facility, designed by NTC Architects and NH Architecture, was shortlisted for the prestigious 2023 Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Public Architecture award. And the McKellar Centre in Geelong, designed by NTC Architects and BG Architecture, was shortlisted for the Interior Architecture award.

We used modular construction on three of the four Mental Health Beds Expansion Program sites, which was quite an innovative solution, and we've learnt a lot from that process. Lots of challenges but also lots of learnings, bringing in efficiencies into the design process and looking at what opportunities there are to build components of buildings off-site.

We are reviewing what worked well, and some of those areas that we could look to improve on, to make this an even better project as we look to expand the program regionally.

Why health infrastructure?

These days, we’re more mobile and have opportunities to work more effectively on-site. We’re a lot more directly involved in how we’re delivering projects, learning a lot more and can do some interesting and ambitious things because of the capacity we’ve now got within our team. The direct contribution you can make to the quality of life for Victorians is the bottom line.

Health infrastructure is as a critical component of a healthy society. We’ve got a great pipeline of projects coming and an excellent opportunity to directly influence some of those outcomes for some vulnerable areas of our community. The best thing for me working at VHBA is the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. All the public health infrastructure projects come through our office.

There are so many diverse areas in healthcare to deliver innovative and industry-leading services.

How are the end users having a say?

With the new acute mental health beds in Victoria, we are setting a new benchmark for mental health infrastructure. We’re working with service providers to understand what they need, but then also working with consumers and people with lived experience.

The people investing time in understanding the real requirements of those who use the services on a daily basis provides us a new insight into what it is that these facilities need to be and what they need to do.

Co-design is providing a better understanding of the more detailed requirements of what is important to people who use these facilities. There’s an enormous knowledge base in health services and how they operate, and this adds a further perspective on top of that.

Sometimes it can be just the type of colours or fabrics that are used in an area. Or providing a laundry for consumer use, exercise areas for physical activity, or spiritual rooms that consumers can use for quiet reflection. Simple solutions can make a fundamental difference to the experience of the people who are there receiving the services.

Learn more about the Mental Health Beds Expansion Program.

Working in health infrastructure at the VHBA

A great workplace is defined by its people.

That’s why we’ve built a valued-based, respectful and inclusive workplace – one that encourages innovation and curiosity for improving health outcomes for all Victorians.

Every person in our organisation plays a role in successfully delivering best-practice, sustainable, adaptable and inclusive health infrastructure.

We are proud of our gender equality and inclusivity. We encourage applications from people living with a disability, LGBTIQ+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Learn more about working at the VHBA.
 

Employee benefits

As Australia’s second largest employer, the Victorian Public Service (VPS) provides rewarding opportunities to help shape Victoria’s future and create better outcomes for Victorian communities.

You can expect to receive a competitive salary and superannuation, plus a range of benefits including salary packing and extensive leave entitlements to help you achieve a work-life balance.

Learn more about VHBA employee benefits.
 

Career development

We support our people to grow, develop and learn. Our learning and professional development pathways will give you the opportunities to develop your skills and capabilities to perform your role effectively and grow your career.

The Victorian Public Sector whole of government capability framework and our department's capability framework provides guidance on aligning the professional development of all our employees to ensure we are building a future ready workforce.

We provide many development pathways to help you plan and meet your learning and professional development needs – in your current role and in any new directions you see your career progressing.

Learn more about developing your career at VHBA.
 

Current opportunities

See all current opportunities at VHBA and sign up for job alerts on the Careers.Vic website.

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Last updated: 22 February 2024