Karen Orsborn appointed as Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Chief Executive

Commission set to move forward on advancing Aotearoa’s wellbeing agenda

The Chair of the Commission Board, Hayden Wano, has today announced the appointment of its new Tumu Whakarae - Chief Executive for the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.

Karen Orsborn steps into the Chief Executive role from 1 July after leading the Commission’s establishment efforts as Acting Chief Executive since it opened in February. Throughout 2020, she also led the early set-up phase as Head of Secretariat for the Initial Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission (Initial Commission).

“It’s with great pleasure I announce the appointment of Karen Orsborn as Chief Executive of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission. The Board received many high-calibre applications and it’s an honour to have Karen take up this critical leadership role,” says Hayden Wano.

Karen was previously Director Health Quality Improvement and Deputy CEO at the Health Quality and Safety Commission (HQSC), leading national patient safety and quality improvement programmes across public and private hospitals, primary and community care, mental health and addiction services, and aged care. 

“With her broad experience and deep understanding of how the health system works, Karen will bring fresh eyes to this part of the sector. Her leadership expertise and strategic insight will be invaluable as the Commission sets about advancing the transformation of mental health and addiction services,” says Hayden Wano.

Hayden Wano also chaired the Initial Commission Board and says Karen brought focus and energy to the Initial Commission’s work programme, quickly building a strong, focused team and making stuff happen.

“The Board has great confidence that by maintaining leadership continuity, Karen’s understanding of the history and significance of He Ara Oranga, the Government Inquiry into mental health and addiction, will enable the Commission to move forward with a sense of urgency,” he says.

He Ara Oranga set out an ambitious vision for wellbeing in Aotearoa. The Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission is charged with providing oversight of the nation’s mental health and wellbeing system, holding the Government of the day and other decision makers to account for the health and wellbeing of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Karen has a strong discipline of bringing community voices to the fore. She listened clearly to those voices over the last 18 months, particularly people and whānau with lived experience of mental distress and addiction. Through the reporting of the Initial Commission, she advocated strongly for the community’s call for system transformation to be prioritised and advanced by Government. Karen has the skills and drive to ensure this continues to happen,” says Hayden Wano.

Speaking about her appointment, Karen says being able to draw on her broad health system experience will be invaluable as the Commission works to shine the light on the mental health and addiction system and the areas that contribute to wellbeing. She acknowledges the enormity of the task ahead and is optimistic that the transformation that people and communities are looking for can be realised.

“Overhauling the system is a long game. It is going to take time and collective effort. We can all make a difference through small actions every day. One of the challenges we have, as a Commission and a mental health and wellbeing sector, is to balance long-term transformation with meeting critical needs for support and services right now, particularly for our children and young people,” says Karen Orsborn.

“There are some great things happening at a grassroots level out in communities.  Turning the system around for our kids and youth so that they are safe, happy, and well is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s a huge privilege for me to serve our community through this role.”

Karen Orsborn Acting Chief Executive Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission