Combating allied health workforce challenges

  • Isabelle Ryan (NWRH Physiotherapist), Natalia Despot (NWRH Speech Pathologist) , Kadeisha Roberts (NWRH Occupational Therapist) visiting Krys the Crocodile (Savannah King), Normanton, Queensland.
    (L to R): Isabelle Ryan (NWRH Physiotherapist), Natalia Despot (NWRH Speech Pathologist) , Kadeisha Roberts (NWRH Occupational Therapist) visiting Krys the Crocodile (Savannah King), Normanton, Queensland.
  • Natalia Despot (NWRH Speech Pathologist) at the North West Hospital and Health Service, Karumba Primary Health Clinic
    Natalia Despot (NWRH Speech Pathologist) at the North West Hospital and Health Service, Karumba Primary Health Clinic
  • Isabelle Ryan (NWRH Physiotherapist) at the Gidgee Healing Normanton Primary Health Care Centre, Queensland
    Isabelle Ryan (NWRH Physiotherapist) at the Gidgee Healing Normanton Primary Health Care Centre, Queensland.
  • Michael Smith (Team Leader), Justin Lin (NWRH Podiatrist), Lucy O’Neill (NWRH Exercise Physiologist) and Sam Delainimati (Care Support Worker) at the Norman River, Normanton, Queensland. 
    (L to R): Michael Smith (Team Leader), Justin Lin (NWRH Podiatrist), Lucy O’Neill (NWRH Exercise Physiologist) and Sam Delainimati (Care Support Worker) at the Norman River, Normanton, Queensland. 
Rahni Cotterill
By
North and West Remote Health
Rahni Cotterill,
Executive Manager,
Allied Health and Community Services
Issue
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North and West Remote Health (NWRH) successfully partnered with Gidgee Healing and CheckUP to deliver a joint allied health service into discrete communities within the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland during 2023.

This demonstrated the benefits of partnerships between Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and local non-government organisations (NGOs) to address health workforce shortages through a collaborative, culturally appropriate approach. This model promotes exceptional clinical care, cultural sensitivity, community engagement and overall improved health outcomes.

The Gulf communities of Burketown, Doomadgee, Karumba, Mornington Island and Normanton face unique health disparities and complex health challenges. The provision of effective and culturally appropriate healthcare services within these communities has been undertaken by the local ACCHO, Gidgee Healing, since 2018. The ACCHO approach has had great benefits within this region – engaging First Nations communities in co-designing and delivering health care through employment of a local First Nations workforce, governed by a locally elected board of management.

With the national shortage of allied health workers seen in 2021 and 2022, continued service delivery by Gidgee Healing into the Gulf required an innovative and collaborative approach. A unique, joint-funded model by CheckUP and Gidgee Healing allowed a sub-contract arrangement to deploy current NWRH allied health staff based in Mount Isa and Townsville to service the Lower Gulf for a six-month period.

NWRH are leaders in rural and remote Allied Health service delivery within the north-west Queensland region. The organisation has provided services within these communities for 30 years and employs over 65 allied health clinicians across three sites: Mount Isa, Longreach and Townsville. With strong clinical governance, credentialing processes, evidence-based policies and procedures, and a rich understanding of community engagement within the region, NWRH was well placed to support Gidgee Healing with their allied health workforce challenges.

Utilising a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to client-centred care and employing dietitians, exercise physiologists, podiatrists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists, NWRH provided monthly services into the Lower Gulf communities.

The monthly presence of these disciplines provided accessible chronic disease management, lifestyle modification, preventive education, and early childhood and early intervention services. The interdisciplinary approach allowed clinicians to work to the top of their scope of practice and created an environment for information sharing, continuity of care and increased health system efficiencies.

By collaborating with Gidgee Healing, NWRH’s teams were able to work closely with locally based professionals. The Gidgee Healing Aboriginal health workers played a pivotal role in the delivery of culturally safe care, by being the conduit between the communities and the NWRH allied health team. Their cultural knowledge, understanding of the local determinants of health and community connections were invaluable in building trust and ensuring effective communication, community ownership and empowerment. Aboriginal health workers complemented the NWRH allied health services by providing health education, language support and advocacy for traditional healing practices.

Multidisciplinary allied health care encourages active community participation in health decision-making processes. Through this collaborative model, NWRH was able to provide a consistent, high-quality, well-attended allied health service to communities located in the Lower Gulf region. Utilising the connections and local knowledge of Gidgee Healing, NWRH were also able to engage community members as partners in care, ensuring services were tailored to meet the unique needs and preferences of the community.

Where ACCHOs are experiencing challenges in recruiting allied health professionals, a collaborative approach between the ACCHO, funding partner and an experienced local NGO, has been shown to be successful. This partnership demonstrated improved health outcomes, increased client satisfaction and reduced health disparities within the discrete Aboriginal communities serviced.

This initiative highlights the importance of partnerships, community involvement and self-determination in culturally competent healthcare delivery.

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