Amalgamation proposal - Optometry SA & Victoria

Amalgamation proposal - Optometry SA & Victoria

A brief overview of the proposal

The Optometry SA Board recommends to OSA members that we amalgamate with our colleagues over the border in Optometry Victoria in the following step-by-step process:

Optometry Victoria members agree to the following:

  • Change their name to Optometry Victoria/South Australia
  • Change their structure from an Incorporated Association to a Company Limited by Guarantee
  • Amend their constitution to welcome optometrists practising in South Australia
  • Amend their constitution to share the governance and decision-making in the organisation across the two states, with SA Board members appointed to their Board

At membership renewal 2018-19, OSA and OV members will be invited to join Optometry Victoria/South Australia

Optometry SA will then be dissolved at its operations and assets transfered to Optometry Victoria/SA

Staff roles and responsibilities will be restructured to bring the best from both states

Head office will be in Melbourne, with a satellite office here in SA

Click here to view a video from OSA President Kurt Larsen & OV President Murray Smith

Click here to view a video from OSA president Kurt Larsen & OSA CEO Libby Boschen

Why does the OSA Board and CEO recommend amalgamation with Victoria?

The primary purpose of amalgamation is to “future-proof” our organisation and the work that we do for members and the profession. Amalgamation allows OSA to take control of its future and to negotiate an effective partnership with a like-minded organisation.

Optometry SA is currently very vulnerable financially and this prevents us from being as strategic and proactive as we believe we should be in the current volatile health care and optometry environment.

Whilst our membership is growing currently, we are still small compared with other states and have insufficient members to resource the activities we need to deliver, whilst also charging fair and appropriate membership fees. We do not want to increase membership fees any further.

A challenge associated with increasing membership is also increasing member diversity. We now have members graduating from 6+ universities (with more to come) from across Australia, New Zealand and overseas. More than half of our members are female and have different expectations and needs than their male counterparts. Over 70% of our members work for corporate Optometry Service Providers including Luxottica, Specsavers, Bailey Nelson, Health Partners, National Pharmacies Optical, The Optical Superstore and EyeQ to name some. Each retail model and workplace culture varies slightly and this affects the support that the optometrists working for them need from us. We now also have partners and franchise members, requiring something different again. Meanwhile, we also retain a thriving and vibrant independent membership sector, which requires a further variation of support from their professional association to keep them on the front foot. In addition, OSA now has a growing number of academic members working in some capacity at Flinders University, plus the student optometrists they are teaching.

Whilst OSA still has an excellent membership base, it is very slowly falling (95% of 167 members in 2005 and 82% of 240 members in 2018) and it is imperative that we can respond to and provide tailored services to each and every one of our members, regardless of where they work and how many hours they work and what their professional aspirations may be. It is essential that we retain our relevance into the future. This ability to respond and tailor our response to member needs requires resources which OSA does not have.

You are all well aware that graduate optometrists are flooding into the market as new optometry schools are established. Whilst there is limited opportunities to prevent new schools opening their doors, we can create new markets for optometrists to ensure that members continue to have a choice of employment and professional opportunities. The work associated with market growth includes working with SA Health to change policies to ensure that optometrists are used to the max in preference to ophthalmology, orthoptists and GPs. It also relies on educating GPs, pharmacists, ophthalmology and the community about the importance of what you do and how you can help. All this takes time and money which, in our current format, we just don't have.

The environment in which you are working is changing quickly. Optometry needs to be nimble to seize opportunities for growth and to block risk. OSA can only be nimble if we have the resources to be constantly monitoring and exploring the optometric environment here, interstate and overseas.

To keep our doors open, OSA currently relies on an annual subsidy from Optometry Australia and a financially successful SA Blue Sky Congress. Both of which cannot be relied upon. The financial success of SA Blue Sky Congress depends on delegate numbers and trade exhibitors/sponsors – both of which fluctuate depending on market forces and other sector events.

Subsidies from Optometry Australia rely on the goodwill of the other state divisions plus OA’s ability to provide the subsidy in an increasingly demanding economic climate. Every dollar they provide OSA, could arguably be better spent on initiatives that benefit all members across Australia, such as the promotion of optometry services and GP education. To date, our OA subsidy has ranged between $45,000 and $150,000 each year depending on the success of Blue Sky and planned activities.

As you can see in the graph below, most of the time we are keeping our nose above water, with the help from OA. However, when things happen outside of our control (such as they did in 2014-15) it leavs OSA very vulnerable and we do not have sufficinet reserves to ride many of these unforcast storms. By merging with Optometry Victoria, we eliminate the costs associated with unecessary duplication, which builds reserves and supports financial stability. Consider the graph below if we took out $200,000 in expenses !

graph on income

How has the Board made the most of the resources we have?

OSA has been trying for 10 years to be independent of OA subsidies. We have created a very successful congress which members love, and which attracts 50% of its delegates from interstate, but we have not managed to grow delegate numbers above 230 or trade exhibitors above 25. Its ability to provide significant additional income is limited, without taking staff away from other crucial projects.

OSA has also attempted to source funding from other streams including government, but this strategy can result in effort being diverted towards the achievement of other organisation’s objectives not ours.e.g. we are currently developing GP education resources with a grant of $20,000 from the Rural Doctors' Workforce Agency.

The organisation has been run frugally, with staff hours as low as they can be, with the appropriate pay level completing the tasks most appropriate to them i.e. the CEO is part-time and not paid to lick stamps. We have moved to small, highly efficient offices, replaced postage with electronic communications and swapped costly CPD events with collaborative co-branding arrangements with other CPD providers.

OSA has also attempted to be smart with the investments it has, but with falling interest rates and the need to carefully support cash flow to run the business at vulnerable times of the year, our options are limited.

The Board and staff believe we have come to the end of the road, with regards to cost-saving efficiencies and income generation.

What did the Board do before bringing their recommendation to members?

This decision was not made lightly by either party. The Optometry SA Board kicked off the process 4 years ago by sending the then President (Elise Pocknee-Clem) and CEO (Libby Boschen) to meet with their counterparts in Optometry Victoria to put the suggestion on the table. At the time, the OV Board decided agianst pursuing the idea because they could not see how it would be beneficial top their members. However, times have changed. Some Optometry Australia state divisions are struggling to keep members. Professional Indemnity Insurance and CPD can be sourced in a variety of ways other than through membership. Optometry salaries are coming down, making membership fees increasingly difficlut to find. Large corporate employers offer services previously only offered by OA in-house. Selling the need for timely and costly advocacy work is difficult to sell to a new generation coming through who can't always see the immediate benefit of paying for their association to engage with government. In summary, Optometry Victoria wants to take action and be proactive in heading off these threats and have now decided that joining forces would be a great idea.

The exploration of amalgamating has been a carefully staged project. A Working Group was established (OA, OV, OSA CEOs) and governance expertise was secured. At each stage of the project, the OVIC and OSA Boards agreed on next steps and a budget. The cost was shared between OA (40%), OV (40%). OTasmania (10%) and OSA (10%). The working group pulled together evidence of amalgmations across many professions, including other health professional associations that have worked well or not, pooling tips and recommendations. We have secured legal and financial advice and explored a range of structural options. Eventually the Working Group was able to present both Boards with sufficient evidence for each to decide that we should amalgamate.

The next step was to put together a proposal for how and when this should be done. The Boards tasked the Working Group with developing a model that ensured that members across both jurisdictions benefitted from the amalgamation, efficiencies were maximised and that the best of both was carried forward. The Board has approved a model and process, completed due-diligence and brings this recommendation to members with confidence.

The Board formed a Member Consultation Group which includes a diverse range of members. This group has been used as a sounding board as we have finalised the details, to ensure that all your concerns are identified and answered or addressed where possible.

What will happen if we don’t amalgamate?

The most likely scenario is that OSA will continue to operate without any further increase in membership fees. This will result in decreasing income and available resources as the years progress, with the end point being a reduction in members services and an inability for OSA to deliver member expectations. It is likely that we will reach a point where we are forced to dissolve and amalgamate on someone else’s terms.

What will it look like “on the ground” in South Australia?

We are proposing that the 'head office' of Optometry Victoria/SA be in Melbourne. This is because OV owns its office and has 6 staff based there. OSA rents its office and has just 2 staff. During the transition period at least, OV/SA will have a base in SA. This may materialise as a small office, or the staff may have a home-office and be out-and-about in the membership more often. Whether this continues after transition, will depend on whether the arrangement is working and the most appropriate staff available for the task at that time.

Under the amalgamated structure, if you need help – your first point of contact will be the team at the OV/SA office in Melbourne. They will provide you with the answer or support that you need in the first instance, or hand over your care to a team member with the most appropriate expertise. This team member may be in Melbourne with OV/SA or OA, or in SA (with OV/SA). If you need face-to-face support, this will be provided by the person with the most appropriate expertise for the issue you have. In the early stages, this will most likely be me or Nic, but there will be a careful handover period to ensure that there is no break or reduction in service. It has not yet been decided whether (long-term) Nic and I will be replaced with someone resident in SA, or whether we utilise technology to the full and fly the most appropriate team member over from Melbourne on a regular basis.

SA CPD and member events will be hosted by OV/SA staff and will provide a great opportunity for you all to get to know our expanded team. The team will also be in SA regularly, visiting you in your practices, at events and for continuing our work with government.

What will we gain on amalgamation?

  • A full time and more responsive secretariat - advice and information, plus friendly support when you need it!
  • More member events (CBD and country) - CPD, networking, CPR, social events
  • Greater depth of lobbying and education of government decision-makers and stake-holders
  • Greater input into and benefits from Optometry Australia initiatives
  • A vibrant Early Career Optometry community (opur future leaders) and more time and initiatives across all member groups
  • A student conference - to build future membership
  • Cost-savings of $200 - $300k each year (by avoiding unecessary duplication, gaining economies of scale and deleting the need for subsidies from OA) that can be spent on member services and advocacy
  • A fresh and useful website

Will it affect membership fees?

Yes. They will come down. OSA and OWA currently have the highest membership fees across the country. On amalgamation, the fees paid by SA based members will be less than paid to OSA previously. In the future, economies of scale secured by amalgamation will result in fees continuing to decrease.

Will we lose the personal service we love?

Naturally, it is easier for Nic and I to provide you with a personal service because we know you. Any change of staff will require the new staff member to take time to get to know you. This would be the same regardless of whether they replace Nic and are working for OSA, or if they replace Nic and are working for OV/SA. However, we can guarantee that there will continue to be staff on the ground in SA meeting members, maintaining an appreciation of local issues, etc. In the beginning, this will be Nic and /or I and we will carefully handover and make introductions during the transition period. Personalities will eventually change, but we know that if this responsibility lands with any of the current OV team – you will be well looked after.

Will we lose services?

Definitely not. In fact, SA members will enjoy additional support and initiatives. Victorian members currently enjoy significant more benefits than SA members purely because they have a full-time team with many skills and resources. 

Will we still have SA Blue Sky Congress?

Yes and no! We are planning on implementing a strategy we have been considering for a few years, regardless of whether OSA and OVIC amalgamates. Each year, SA Blue Sky Congress actively competes with all other OA state conferences (in addition to other providers) for delegates and trade exhibitors and sponsors. This causes us and trade problems. Hosting SA Blue Sky Congress takes a lot of effort every year. This is effort that could be directed to other work for members, or advocacy initiatives. However, we know that our members love SA Blue Sky Congress and are reluctant to let it go.

Here is our proposal:

Optometry Victoria/SA will run a large conference every year for its combined SA and Victorian-based members. In one year, it will be SA Blue Sky Congress and in the alternate year, it will be OMEGA. (OMEGA is the new Melbourne conference that combines the old SRC and ODMA Fair. The first one will be held in July 2019.) OV/SA members who have to travel interstate to attend their conference will enjoy a lower registration fee, to account for their need to incur time out of practice and travel costs. i.e. if SA members fly to Melbourne for OMEGA19, there registration fee will be lower than Victorian members attending the same event.

However, members will still be able to secure all their points by staying in their own state. In SA, in the year that we have no SA Blue Sky Congress, we will host two full day events (at the weekend) called perhaps “Blue Sky Bite-size” which will offer 36 points if you attend both, will enjoy exactly the same fun, relaxed features and cosy atmosphere and great quality education programme. (Though an expensive international speaker and trade exhibit will be unlikely).

There is no doubt that the current OVIC Board and secretariat recognise that SA Blue Sky Congress is loved by SA members and interstate members alike. They want to protect the brand of Blue Sky and to keep the same intimate and fun feel. It is a strength of the new entity to host two completely different conferences.

OV is also keen for OV/SA to continue exploring the hosting of education for our optical dispensing colleagues, both at conferences and during the year.

In addition, in every year, there will be additional OV/SA CPD and networking events for members in the CBD and in two regional areas (these regional locations will rotate each year). i.e. SA members will have the opportunity to attend more CPD than they do currently. These events will run in conjunction with both OA and OV/SA webinars.

The CPD programme in SA will be put together by the new OV/SA CPD Committee, which will include representatives from SA. Nic and I will also be providing advice at the beginning, until we are confident that the new Committee fully understands the nuances and needs of members in each state.

Are Libby & Nic being looked after?

Absolutely (and it’s Libby writing this!). It’s important to understand that Libby and Elise (President of OSA at the time) first travelled to Victoria in 2014, at the request of the OSA Board, to meet with the Optometry Victoria President and CEO and to put amalgamation on the table. It has been discussed over time and both Boards first agreed in principle to the proposal in 2016.

Since this time, the Board has been open and transparent with both Nic and I with regards to the potential amalgamation and what that may mean for our roles and futures with OSA. Nic and I have been employed by OSA for 10 and 13 years respectively and are very much part of the optometric landscape in South Australia. However, we are also keen to pursue other goals and opportunities now that our children are older. The Board has helped us to do this in preparation for what the future may hold. The Board has been flexible in allowing us to take long-service-leave at a time that supports our study. Nic is enrolled at Flinders University and is studying to be a High School teacher in English and History. I’m studying Animal Science at Adelaide University, with the aim of being an advocate for ethical meat production in the future.

Whilst Nic and I are well aware that after amalgamation, Optometry SA will dissolve and we will no longer be employed in our current roles. We also know that we are valued by our members and our Board, in addition to the OVic Board and team and that they are keen to make the most of our skills, expertise and the trusted relationships we have with members and other stakeholders during the transition period. We are both willing to do what we can to ensure a smooth transition and hand-over,but are also excited about what the future may bring for us and our members.

We both work regularly with the team in Optometry Victoria on various national projects. We have experienced first-hand how they run Optometry Victoria and how they support their members. We would not be willing to hand over our valued members to anyone, but have complete faith in the team based in Victoria to pick up when we eventually let go.

What about our relations with SA Health?

We have, as many of you appreciate, excellent relationships with key policy makers in SA health and other government departments. This is in the main due to Libby's hard work and sociable nature. This will continue. OSA is arguably the most successful division in its advocacy work, as judged by favourable government policy.

This is one area of expertise that OSA brings to the table that OV wants to emulate. Under OV/SA, Libby will work as a "Senior Advisor" with a wider team based in Victoria to lobby both state governments in addition to training the Victorian team up and making pertinent introductions during the transition period.

What is Optometry Victoria getting out of this?

The OV President Murray Smith asks "Why wouldn't we do it?". Amalgamation will give Victorian members a stronger and more effective association, with broader skills, expertise and abilities to improve results and member services. Economies of scale and centralised operations will result in lower membership fees and better value. Greater member numbers will attract more sponsorship dollars and enhance our political impact. All in all, amalgamation will "future proof" Optometry Victoria - it keeps them on the front foot, strong and nimble. The door will be shut before the horse can bolt!

We are lucky that OV recognises that OSA may be small, but we have a number of features that will compliment and enrich what they do. Whilst we may be financially vulnerable, we have succeeded in reaching a stable financial position with no losses in the last 3 years.

By pooling our resources and expertise, OV will enjoy its share of the approx. $300,000 saving on governance and operational costs. This can be directed to benefit both Victorian and SA members.

OSA has a wealth of experience and expertise across its members, Board and secretariat which will be very useful and valuable to the new organisation, which as result will benefit OV members.

How will SA member views and interests be heard?

We have carefully considered how we can ensure that all members across the combined states are heard and responded to. As a result, we are proposing a governance and operational structure to support this.

Governance

The Optometry Victoria/SA Board will have 10-12 Directors:

  •      5 Directors will be nominated by Victorian members
  •      3 Directors will be nominated by SA members
  •      2 further Directors can be appointed by the Board if they need particular expertise to support their decision-making e.g. lawyer, accountant

There will also be 2 "Associate Board members" (one form each state) who are Board members-in-waiting. They have no vote. It's a great opportunity for younger members to put their toes in the water!

Currently, there is a nominee from both OSA and OV on the OA Board. This will reduce to just one representative from the OV/SA Board. However, if it ever comes to a vote, our combined member numbers will enjoy exactly the same representative as the sum of both states currently do.

Operations

Each state will have a State Advisory Group which will advise the CEO and staff on issues, opportunities and threats relevant to their local area. This will allow South Australian concerns to be heard and acted upon and for all activities to be "tested" and checked as relevant and beneficial to both states.

Voice at a national level

When OSA disappears, there will no longer be a n Optometry Australia Director nominated by OSA. The current nominee from Optometry Victoria will change to be the nominee of Optometry Victoria/SA and that optometrists could live in South Australia or Victoria.

However, the OA Board recognises the benefit of an SA perspective around their Board table, as we are a significant voice. It also recognises that a reduction in Board member numbers to just 5 could detrimentally affect the quality of discussion and decision-making. As a result, at its November meeting the OA Board will be considering the option of appointing another optometrist from SA to their Board. Watch this space!

Transition period

We are proposing a thorough and complete transition period for both Governance (5 years) and operations (3 years). During this time we will carefully monitor the service you are receiving and make any necessary changes to resolve concerns before they become a problem. Your input will be important!

Why did Optometry Tasmania opt out of amalgamation?

Well that is the $6 million dollar question and to be fair probably has more to do with the timing, individual personalities and the environment over there. The reality remains that Optometry Tasmania is in a much weaker position than we are and is putting itself at risk. But that is their decision. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating and our goal is to prove to them that amalgamation is a superb opportunity and that our members have benefited greatly!

What's the process from here?

The vote

Whilst the OSA Board and staff strongly and enthusiastically recommend that OSA amalgamates with OV, the decision lies with you, the members.

Our AGM will be on 29 October. Members will be asked to vote for or against the amalgamation at that time.

Members who can't make it in person to the meeting, will have the opportunity to vote by proxy on line - details will follow next week.

Optometry Victorian members will be voting at the same time.

Finding out what you need to know to make an informed decision

Please take the time to find out the facts and have your questions answered before you cast your vote.

You can ask Libby or any Board member for details.

Please don't rely on hear-say and gossip: this is an important decision that requires your full attention and we appreciate you taking the time to get informed.