This allied health workforce story is an example of a multidisciplinary team in action. It’s the story of Ella Dunsford (Project Manager and Clinical Lead, Occupational Therapy), Kristy Botting (Clinical Lead, Physiotherapy) and Leann Shaw (Indigenous Rehabilitation Assistant) who describe their response to the mal-distribution of the health workforce. They describe their efforts in developing a local workforce and the rehabilitation programs they provide through different mechanisms, including telehealth, all with a view to improving access to health care for clients.
Ella, Kristy and Leann’s story:
We are Ella the Project Manager and Clinical Lead, Occupational Therapy; Kristy is the Clinical Lead, Physiotherapy; and Leann Shaw (Indigenous Rehabilitation Assistant). Together we lead and grow North West Community Rehab in North West Queensland.
North West Community Rehab (NWCR), is based at Mount Isa’s Centre for Rural and Remote Health (CRRH) works collaboratively with North West Hospital & Health Service, Gidgee Healing and NWRH. The centre provides student assisted-led community rehabilitation services to people of North West Queensland. NWCR aims to implement high quality, evidence-based integrated community rehabilitation programs and in-reach rehabilitation for the North West Queensland community, support access to specialist services and build clinical education outputs and capacity across Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy in Mount Isa.
Our lived experience of the maldistribution of the health care workforce drives us to contribute towards development of a local workforce in North West Queensland; and as part of our workforce development strategy NWCR offers 30 weeks of student led rehabilitation intensives each year. In the last 12 months we have directly supervised 19 clinical placements for students of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, whilst supporting another 22 clinical placements supervised by our colleagues at CRRH. NWCR works under a service-learning model and strives to grow conscientious, holistic, resilient and workforce ready health providers.
NWCR provides rehabilitation programs in individual or groups in Tjirtamai Hall, at home, in community settings, via tele-health and at Mount Isa Hospital as part of the in-reach program. There is no typical day here at NWCR! NWCR’s programs are tailored and constantly evolve to meet community’s need. For example in 2018 NWCR initiated a Parkinson’s Disease specific program to better support participants to engage in rehabilitation by having early morning sessions which aligns with timing of medications; facilitated a community access group for participants who had shared goals of confidence with community mobility; and have been facilitating tele-health to participants who live in remote areas.
Working remotely requires creative problem solving. Common challenges we experience are access to specialist services (900km away); the impact of the social determinants of health in regional and remote communities; navigating transport options; maldistribution of workforce and staff turnover. The NWCR team works collaboratively with local agencies to minimise the effects of challenges on our client’s access to service, for example maintaining relationships with providers at regional centres and facilitating specialist medical appointments; working alongside GPs and health providers to support holistic care of participants; and developing agreements with local NGO and ACCHO to utilise their buses to transport participants which has been great! Our strategy of student assisted-led community rehabilitation works to provide free access to a publically funded rehabilitation program which participants would otherwise not have, builds our local workforce and encourages students to work remotely after they graduate.
Our team at NWCR were all raised in regional and remote communities. We are driven to improve access to health care services and improve health outcomes for regional and remote Australians. We #loverural - it is where we live, work, explore and grow connections.
The authors have stayed true to their sentiment that “working remotely requires creative problem solving” by demonstrating how their student assisted-led community rehabilitation strategy works to provide free access to a rehabilitation program which participants would otherwise not afford. The strategy not only alleviates cost for clients but also addresses local workforce issues and encourages students to work remotely after they graduate – a big incentive to work rural! This story shows that, while working in rural and remote areas is without its challenges, often the right attitude goes a long way in overcoming these challenges.