Panic buying, severe weather events and supply chain disruptions causing food shortages are just a few of the many challenges experienced by dietitians in rural and remote Australia over the past two years. Accredited practising dietitians (APDs) in Central Queensland, Alice Springs and Karratha share how innovation, flexibility and adaptability have been key to continuing high-quality health care.
Responding to food supply shortages
‘Grocery store shelves had been swept of basic and essential supplies.’
Jessica Bauer, from Bundaberg’s Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC), reflects on the extraordinary sequence of events that recently led to food supply shortages across the Central Queensland region.
‘First, there was COVID-19. Then the Bundaberg, Wide Bay and North Burnett regions faced multiple heavy storms and flooding which damaged main roads and highways connecting the region to critical food supplies,’ Jessica said.
IWC, a not-for-profit wellbeing centre that services communities throughout Central Queensland, was concerned that clients would be substituting healthier options with less-nutritious packaged and processed foods.
‘We responded by providing advice on nutritious and financially viable substitutes. We also looked for different suppliers when the larger chains and grocery stores had run out of stock,’ Jessica said.
‘Where fresh produce had been in short supply or unavailable, we looked at snap-frozen fruit and vegetables with similar nutritional profiles. Or canned foods as a secondary solution, as well as buying produce when it’s available and freezing it to be consumed later.’
Continuing high-quality service delivery under restrictions
Desert Dietitians was established in Alice Springs during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Katelyn Paterson explaining how they had to respond by setting up new business approaches.
‘We moved our consultations online while making sure our resources were still accessible,’ Katelyn said.
‘Sometimes this would involve hand-delivering to mailboxes or mailing to community clinics that could be up to 1,500 kilometres away.
‘Perhaps the biggest challenge was servicing those with disability as they had strict rules around visitors and face-to-face contact.’
In the Pilbara, Karratha Central Healthcare’s Bethany Snow only recently felt the full weight of restrictions and changes to service delivery, with Western Australia still on healthcare restrictions for COVID-19.
‘Since COVID-19 reached our community, I haven’t been able to see as many clients face to face in the clinic and we’ve had to cancel face-to-face multidisciplinary outreach visits to our surrounding communities,’ Bethany said.
‘I’ve worked hard to improve community links to local services for clients who I haven’t been able to visit. This has been through local nurses and other service providers, more phone consults and switching to telehealth services where possible.’
Innovation, flexibility and adaptability key to overcoming challenges
Central Queensland’s Jessica Bauer would like to see greater investment in government-funded infrastructure for allied health support across regional Australia. But, until then, she believes innovation is enabling dietitians to overcome the challenges.
‘Innovation is a key solution as it brings telehealth and other service delivery models to new people,’ Jessica said.
Flexibility and adaptability are also essential to ensuring people living in remote communities have equal access to high-quality, evidence-based health care, as explained by Alice Springs’ Katelyn Paterson.
‘Rural and remote health care holds its own challenges, even prior to the pandemic. Being remote means that people can’t always travel as planned due to weather, road access or cultural reasons. Or products that you’re expecting don’t arrive and this requires a lot of troubleshooting,’ Katelyn said.
Karratha’s Bethany Snow agrees.
‘Being flexible in your approach and open to adapting your plans on the go can have a big impact in rural and remote health care,’ Bethany said.
‘When the community is supported this way, it thrives and gives back a lot to you as a clinician.’