Herdsboy who rose to become CEO of region’s referral hospital
Posted Saturday, April 14 2012 at 18:00
- The first Kenyatta National Hospital chief executive who is not a health professional, Richard Lesiyampe got a baptism of fire – quite literally – two months after he got into the job
“After all,” he says, “at that time every village in Samburu had at least one person in the army. I thought it was my turn to be the recruit.”
But this was not to be as young Lesiyampe was a good pupil. From primary school to secondary school he had shown exemplary academic ability.
He says he is not particularly clever, but was just lucky to know the answers to the questions in the exams.
So, when he passed his exams, extended family members put their heads together and decided that he wasn’t going to the military. He was to further his education, and the military remained a dream for the moran.
That was in the mid 1980s, when the institution he currently runs was one of the best hospitals in Africa.
Those who have a history with it say at the time the hospital staff handled referrals from as far as South Africa. Drug stockouts, congestion, double-bed occupancy, industrial strikes never seemed a possibility. Over the years, all this have come to pass.
And even in his young tenure, the 48- year old has had his fair share of crises to manage.
“We know the public confidence in the hospital has waned over the years. We know that we have a long way to go but we are determined to make this hospital a choice of destination for all Kenyans,” he says.
Lesiyampe believes a lot of the hospital’s woes are directly related to the huge numbers of patients it receives.
“On paper we are only supposed to deal with referral cases. But our doctors do everything. They handle cases that, in a fully functioning system, are supposed to be handled by other levels of care. Things like diarrhoea, malaria, colds are supposed to be treated at dispensaries, district hospitals and such levels,” he says.
“But we see these cases. We cannot turn patients away because they have not been referred to Kenyatta.”
The father of six talks about KNH the way a father would talk about an under-achieving son; he sees the potential in him, but only wishes the child could see himself through his father’s eyes.
One doesn’t need to do much to coax a laugh off him. A trait that may have developed to disarm his audiences during his years as a human resources specialist at various companies, including the Co-operative Bank of Kenya, and at the Kenya Wildlife Service.
“We have the best brains here. All of us should be at pains whenever friends and family seek services outside the country. Why go to the UK for treatment, be operated on by a Kenyan surgeon, attended to by a Kenyan nurse and only come back for recuperation? We can do all these things, but only if we believe,” he says.
And belief is something he holds close to his heart.
“I walked into an institution that had been in operation for decades. There was a certain way that things were done. I had to make those I found here believe that I came with some sort of solution and that it would work,” he says.
It hasn’t been an easy walk.
“I am grateful that I have a board that stands by me and a receptive staff. All we need to do now is to provide an environment in which the good people at Kenyatta will thrive,” he says.