The gap is still wide, too wide, but when I first started working at Queensland’s North West Hospital and Health Service (NWHHS) I was delighted to learn that two out of five medical interns who joined the Service identified as Aboriginal. That was more than two years ago, and those two interns have elected to stay here, which is even more of a thrill to me – because we need good Aboriginal doctors in the bush!
I am a proud Aboriginal woman of the Woppaburra people from Great Keppel Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, but Mount Isa, in Queensland’s Kalkadoon country, has been my home since I was one year old. I was raised and schooled in Mount Isa and returned here to work in the public service in 2005, and my husband and I are bringing up our two daughters in Mount Isa.
In my position as Director of Cultural Capability and Engagement I am looking at ways the Health Service can be more responsive to the health needs of our communities, and in the North West those communities are as diverse as the discrete Aboriginal communities of Mornington Island and Doomadgee, where the population is almost 100 per cent Aboriginal, to farming communities like Julia Creek, Cloncurry and Camooweal.
Big ticket items for me are increasing the Indigenous workforce in all areas, including allied health, nursing and administration, and that means looking at ways we can do things differently such as realigning the Indigenous Liaison Officer program at the NWHHS.
The workforce should be reflective of the community it serves, and I think we’re achieving gradually that in the NWHHS. Indigenous staff throughout the organisation are moving up to higher duties. There are career pathways for them in the health services, and that’s a great thing. It’s not only good for those who are achieving higher levels of employment, it’s great for those who are starting at the entry level, and who can see from others what they can aspire to.
In terms of cultural capability, we have great attendance for our cultural practice program for staff, and regularly maintain above 80 per cent participation for cultural capability training, which is very gratifying. That is across all staff – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
We are increasing the involvement of consumers in our health services planning. We have an Elders group and other consumer groups we consult with to get regular input into the design of our models of care – whether it be a specific area of health service delivery, or how a ward should be re-designed, or how a facility should be built. “Nothing about us, without us,” keeps ringing in my head. Because if we don’t take our consumers with us, if we don’t ask them what would work for them, we’re not going to be able to close the gap.
One big step forward is implementing the Lower Gulf Strategy, with partners Gidgee Healing and the Western Queensland Primary Health Network, which aims to provide comprehensive primary care in the communities of Mornington Island, Doomadgee and Normanton (covered in Partyline #64, September 2018).
This has big goals including reducing chronic disease and preventing young people getting chronic disease, improving access to primary health care and child and maternal health services, improving access to mental health and substance abuse services, particularly for children and youth, and increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff employed within health in these three communities.
Already we are seeing a dramatic decrease in presentations to Emergency Departments in those communities and a corresponding increase in presentations to Gidgee Healing, the primary health care provider. This is very exciting as we want people (and they want it themselves) to present before they get acutely unwell with chronic disease.
As part of my job it is a real privilege to visit our remote communities where these changes are taking place. My background is social work, and child safety and I want to see the children in our communities grow up strong and healthy – they are our future, after all!
Showcasing the diversity of life in rural and remote Australian, in the Friends 'My Place: where I live and work' series, members of Friends of the Alliance talk about their life and work and what's special about where they live.