Striving to make a difference on Mornington Island – a Friends ‘My Place’ story

  • Leeona West
    Leeona West

I am a proud Aboriginal woman and descendant of the Kalkadoon, Mitakoodi and Djaku-nde peoples, with more than 20 years’ experience in nursing. In 2001, together with my twin sister and younger brother, I completed my nursing degree through a community-based nursing program in Mount Isa Qld, delivered in partnership with both Injilinji Aboriginal Corporation and Deakin University. Most of my work as a nurse has been in the Aboriginal and community-controlled health sector, including supporting services to attain National AGPAL (Australian General Practice Accreditation Ltd) accreditation.

I take very seriously my responsibility to contribute to improving the health of our communities and our people. I am also passionate about contributing to build the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.

Recently I commenced as Director of Nursing on Mornington Island (Gununa) in the Gulf of Carpentaria. I am very grateful to be in a position that will lead the change required to ensure both culturally and clinically safe care for the Mornington Island community.

I admire the strength and resilience of my people, Australia’s First People, the oldest continuous culture in the world. We can’t Close the Gap, without the voice of First Australians and non-Indigenous Australian’s working together. The Lower Gulf Strategy, is a great example of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians working together to help Close the Gap that 17 years of planning and funding has not achieved.

Implementing the Lower Gulf Strategy North West Hospital and Health Service, with partners Gidgee Healing and the Western Queensland Primary Health Network, aims to provide comprehensive primary health care in the communities of Mornington Island, Doomadgee and Normanton. In its second year of implementation, the strategy is starting to show exciting results. With the main health issues in these communities: chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and cancer), mental health, alcohol-related issues, sexual health issues and skin infections in children, the three organisations have shifted the focus from acute care to primary preventative care through community engagement. Since its implementation, the strategy has also increased the Indigenous health workforce within communities experiencing very high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, and where the recruitment and retention of health workforce is an ongoing challenge due to remoteness.

The Mornington Island transition was completed in January 2019, with partners persevering in developing an effective shared medical workforce model. Recruitment and upskilling of doctors to work across both acute and primary care settings on Mornington Island is ongoing. Since the implementation of the strategy, there has been a significant reduction in Category 4 and 5 presentations to the Emergency Department of 54 per cent on Mornington Island, and over 60 per cent of the population has now seen a GP.

Buoyed by the Lower Gulf Strategy, the Mornington Island Health Council led the development of the Mornington Island Health Action Plan. This initiative is a tangible extension to the work of the Lower Gulf Strategy and is now being implemented with the phase one roll-out of Child and Maternal Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing Action Plans. The Health Action Plan is championed by Queensland Health’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Branch, the Government Champion, Michael Walsh, Director General Queensland Health, and Ministerial Champion, Hon Craig Crawford, Queensland Minister for Fire and Emergency. A new primary care facility will be built on Mornington Island, with funding secured by Gidgee Healing.

I am a proud advocate for our people and will always continue to strive for improved outcomes through both clinical and culturally safe care.

What I love most about my position at the North West Hospital and Health Service, is being able to make a difference to our people’s lives and to be a role model and mentor to the future generation, and for both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce and the non-Aboriginal workforce.

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.


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