Cultural healthcare focus making a big difference

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Every day across Queensland, teams of health professionals are dedicating themselves to making a difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

One such team works in the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS).

Situated opposite the Nambour Hospital, the SCHHS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health team work to deliver culturally appropriate health services, and break down the barriers for community members who are seeking healthcare.

It’s not just a place for advice, but staff are making connections, which the community has been searching for.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Preventable Health Pathways (PHP) Clinical Team Manager Luke Snabaitis said the PHP program had started small, but over time the service has grown to be an integral part of the health system on the Sunshine Coast.

"PHP supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with existing chronic health conditions who may be at risk of needing admission to hospital; or who have already been in hospital for their condition. The program runs for up to 12 weeks.

“We’ve been operating in Nambour for about seven years and the program began with just eight positions after community members told us they needed support to get to their GPs, getting help with a health check, plus issues connecting with services after they’d left hospital,” Luke said.

“We now we have more than 20 staff, and over the years we’ve done so much work, and collected valuable data to expand and make sure we continue to help the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

“The response has been great, fantastic to be honest. It isn’t just the work we do, we have community members who just want a yarn, they’ll tell us how things are out in the community, and people will tell you if they are happy or not and it seems most are.”

Luke knows that he is helping to make a difference, and has been involved in crucial moments of the patient’s health journey.

“We are about connecting people in the community with the right support. The answer isn’t always to go straight to hospital, we have so many people that can offer help to community members for up to 12 weeks after a hospital stay.”

“I had a former patient who I hadn’t seen for two years, and he had to go to hospital for a planned admission, and he wouldn’t go unless I went with him,” Luke said.

“He trusted me and wanted me to help him on his journey. I think that’s really empowering, it shows that the program isn’t just helping people avoid hospital. We have the stats that show we are doing that, and if they do have to go to hospital we are finding an 88% reduction in the length of stay, along with a 57% reduction in hospital admissions for people who have been on the program for chronic conditions.

"If you’re on this program, it’s very unlikely you need to go back to hospital, because we can put you in touch with culturally safe supports to make sure that people feel comfortable and confident to take care of their own health.

Senior Health Worker Jordy Darney believes that he is part of something that is instigating change in the local community.

“There is, in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, a huge intergenerational fear of hospitals. A belief that nothing good ever comes from hospitals, and it is a place where people go to die.. We are working hard to break down those fears, to implement change,” Jordy said.

“We’re trying to do that by providing education to mob throughout the Sunshine Coast and Gympie regions, and make it culturally appropriate. We’ve identified staff members across the service that are assisting us with this, so that people feel like they are genuinely being cared for.

“Change is happening… we are seeing it day to day. If we can change one person’s attitude, then their mob’s attitude, their family’s attitude can also change, it can be so important.”

Jordy and Luke from Sunshine Coast HHS

Jordy takes great pride in his work, and encourages anyone thinking of a similar career to get involved.

“I love connecting with mob, and even if it’s changing one person or a whole family’s trajectory, that’s what makes me smile every day.

"I love working in the community and making a difference. We have the ability to inspire others. When someone has had amazing care from our health service they share that experience.

“Come and have a talk to us, take the gamble. We are going to keep working till we close that gap, and one day we will do that, and eliminate the social barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“I feel so blessed to I do what I do.”

Luke also believes that the service is making a difference in the region and takes great pride in his work.

“We are working close the gap and with the addition of more services through NDIS and My Aged Care, there is increased attention being placed on a community of people who need our support. We’re seeing other organisations wanting to be part of this, and help us move towards health equity.

“Improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is everybody’s business and as we move towards reconciliation and health equity, we can’t do this alone and we don’t want to do it alone. We want to do it together. We want to learn from each other, we have so many cultures that we can all learn from, this is such a good opportunity to engage with everyone.

“When you see someone six months after they’ve been discharged and they tell me how they are going, that’s what is so fulfilling. That humanness, that care, that’s what’s important. Those moments when someone is genuinely thankful, you have patients coming to have a chat, I love that. I’ve worked in health for a long time, and I’ve never had that. You become a part of that community, you’re a part of something.

“If you want to make change then this is the space you want to be in, I’d encourage anyone to get involved. It’s great, I feel like I’m making a difference. “

Find out more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Care across the state here: www.health.qld.gov.au/atsihealth

For more information on services on the Sunshine Coast, go here: www.sunshinecoast.health.qld.gov.au/patients-and-visitors/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-support