Ken Sheehan Photo: Jim Huse

Former Alberta Hospital Ponoka director honoured

Adult Psychiatric wing renamed to recognize Ken Sheehan’s contributions

It’s an honour to be recognized by your colleagues, but that was surpassed for Ken Sheehan last week.

Sheehan, the former executive director of Alberta Hospital Ponoka, was bestowed with the tribute of having the adult psychiatry centre named after him. A ceremony was held Sept. 18 at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.

The new Kenneth Sheehan Wing – Adult Psychiatry celebrates the tremendous contributions he made to mental health and psychiatric care during his nearly 20-year career in the province. He held the top job at Alberta Hospital Ponoka from 1984 until 1998.

“It’s certainly an honour, especially when the other two major buildings are named after the Honourable Halvar Jonson and the Honourable Dave Russell,” Sheehan said. “I’m certainly not in that league.”

The decision to recognize Sheehan in this manner came via a formal submission from several of his former colleagues. The fact Sheehan was nominated for the honour in this manner demonstrates his staff were a crucial part of his time in Ponoka.

“The buildings are important, but they don’t make a hospital. I think certainly the buildings have provided a safer, more respectful place for patients and for staff, but some buildings were just disgusting,” Sheehan said.

“What was really important for me was to see the staff recognized with that (mental health services) accreditation award. That wasn’t me saying ‘you’re doing a fine job,’ it was someone nationally saying it and you can’t get a better compliment than that.”

However, all of the work to improve operations didn’t happen overnight and Sheehan credited the staff he had over the years.

“The staff knew that change was inevitable, but they wanted to support it, to become better, to become recognized and gain some credibility, plus they want pride back,” he said, noting it took a few years to get the management staff necessary to facilitate the changes.

“The staff did the work. And once we had everyone, the people had the enthusiasm. There wasn’t any turf wars and they basically worked together. That’s all you can ask for.”

Sheehan also explained that the patients will always be memorable for him.

“Some of the most interesting people I have met in a place like this and most of them didn’t have the keys,” he stated.

“Some very intelligent people with mental illness and they are very quick to give you advice, didn’t hesitate to tell you when they thought you are wrong or you were missing something plus they were extremely astute.

“I worked in a hospital one time where there was a patient with a PhD in biochemistry. A supremely intelligent person, he would try to engage you in a discussion and you had to be careful because his mind could do somersaults. You learn so much from people like that. There was always some real personalities, some real characters. I wish I could mention them, but you’ll remember them forever.”

During his final few years at the hospital, Sheehan was also the central Alberta area director for the provincial mental health advisory board before leaving to be the chief operating officer for the Alberta mental health board. He would later move into the chief executive officer role for the board before retiring in 2002.

This article was made possible with the assistance of Alberta Health Services.


This plaque will be displayed inside the entrance of the renamed Ken Sheehan Wing — Adult Psychiatry at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury.