by VEJAY STEEDE
Bill Wharton brings a wealth of professionalism and leadership, as well as a passion for helping people, to his new role as chairman of PALS Cancer Care in Bermuda.
Mr Wharton also has first-hand experience of the impact the disease can have on patients and their families.
“Like most people, my life has been impacted by cancer,” he said.
“My father died of cancer, and I’ve had friends and family that have undergone cancer treatment. I learned through my father’s battles with cancer that diagnosis is just the beginning.”
A well-known figure in Bermuda’s international business circles, Mr Wharton first moved to Bermuda from the United States in 1997 and is currently the head of Argo Insurance; he has also worked in London and Singapore.
He was invited to join PALS when former chairman Gavin Arton stepped down after more than 20 years in the post.
“I’ve had the pleasure of managing teams and businesses, and leading,” he said. “I enjoy leading, so I was happy to accept the role to helm PALS, when asked.”
He recalled the “happenstance” moment one Saturday afternoon when he bumped into old friend Debby Graham, who is a director at PALS.
“In 1997, Debby was the HR manager of Johnson & Higgins, the brokerage firm that brought me to Bermuda,” he said.
“I then met with Gavin Arton. Gavin was one of the first people I met when moving to Bermuda; a mutual friend from Philadelphia introduced us.
“When I joined XL Insurance in 1999, Gavin was the President of XL Foundation. So, when considering joining, I already knew, and had worked with, two PALS board members.”
Mr Wharton acknowledged that the medical industry would provide challenges.
“Medicine has its own language. There are varying and, at times, competing treatment options, so understanding and complying with insurance obligations is not easy,” Mr Wharton said.
“I learned through my father that battling cancer requires a team of medical professionals, advocates and family; it is not a challenge one can take on alone.”
He added: “I’m in the risk business, so I approach things through that lens. As chairman, I have a fiduciary duty to ensure PALS is well managed, and that the trust the community places in PALS is met. Beyond this, my goal is leadership. For me, that means providing counsel and direction to our executive director, Colleen English DeGrilla, and our clinical team, led by our medical director, Dr Sharon Alikhani.”
Another goal is to ensure PALS remains relevant to the community.
“I do this by listening to our clinical team, who deliver our service,” Mr Wharton said.
“I ask myself, and them, what’s changing in the community that impacts how we provide care?
“When PALS’ nurses take on a patient they are not simply entering into a relationship with a person undergoing cancer treatment, they are forming a relationship with an individual in the middle of life, and all that it entails.
“Their other medical issues don’t disappear when someone is diagnosed with cancer, and not all PALS patients have a broad network of support.”
A full-time medical social worker allows PALS to offer additional support and services including legal (estate and/or living wills), advanced directives, funeral procedures, banking, sorting of pensions, obtaining Financial Assistance, housing, counselling and providing overseas medical travel assistance.
It also offers financial assessments, which are conducted by medical social worker Shaimeka Ingham, to see if patients are eligible for assistance with medication, food, medical supplies and cancer-related bills.
Mr Wharton said: “At PALS, we try to minimise stress to allow the patient and family members to focus on their cancer treatment and recovery.”