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Traditional Custodians work with health service to Close the Gap

ELDERS and Traditional Custodians from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clans across the Wide Bay Burnett are working with Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service to improve health outcomes for their people, through an innovative and collaborative new advisory group.

The WBHHS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Advisory Council has recently been established to give Elders and community members direct input into health service planning, as Closing the Gap in Indigenous health outcomes continues to be a priority locally and across the country.

WBHHS Acting Chief Executive Debbie Carroll said the advisory council was a crucial part of the health service’s efforts to provide culturally appropriate services and to ensure Wide Bay health facilities were welcoming and safe environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health is everyone’s business. Our Closing the Gap Health Plan is an important step as we continue to address the systemic barriers to health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Ms Carroll said.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Advisory Council has a critical role to play in guiding the implementation of that plan, ensuring it’s meaningful to their communities by providing cultural context and identifying local priorities.

“The advisory council is made up of members who represent clan nations and communities from across the Bundaberg, Fraser Coast and North Burnett regions.

“Not only are its members helping us to identify service gaps and providing strong advocacy, they’re extending on the work already being done by our fantastic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers by playing a vital connecting role between WBHHS and their communities.

“The personal and professional knowledge and experience that our advisory council members bring with them will help us to enhance our service provision to our Indigenous community, and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with them.”

The group came together in Hervey Bay last week to discuss a range of issues, including how to enhance cultural aspects of service delivery, creating more welcoming cultural environments, and the concept of developing a WBHHS Aboriginal artwork that would eventually become part of its corporate and cultural identity.

The members also had the opportunity to meet with Haylene Grogan, Queensland’s inaugural Chief Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Officer, who was making her first visit to Wide Bay since starting in the new role.

Ms Grogan spoke to the group about statewide priorities, including workforce initiatives, and she applauded the establishment and membership of the advisory council.

Uncle Glen Miller, a Butchulla Elder and retired ranger from the Fraser Coast, said he was excited about the opportunity the council would give him and others to get involved with health promotion and advocacy.

“When I grew up, there wasn’t even a hospital in Hervey Bay, and Aboriginal people certainly weren’t given a look-in in those days,” Uncle Glen said.

“So it seems almost revolutionary, really, to have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander council advising a major health service.

“Ultimately, for me, the signs of success would be that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel confident and valued in going to a health service, that our people have an equal chance of winning a job in a health service, and that they could also have a place in the management of a health service.

“This is something that should become a normal part of life, rather than an exception.”

Fellow council member Aunty Liz Boyle-Law, a Wulli Wulli Elder from Mundubbera, brings her many years of experience as a teacher aide, despite not being able to attend school past the age of 11.

“There was a fair bit of health promotion involved in being a teacher aide, because there were children with dental problems or who had other health challenges or substance abuse issues outside of school,” Aunty Liz said.

“Now that I’m growing older – which, just like having a baby, doesn’t come with a manual – I understand the importance of listening to our health professionals about how we can help to close the gap at all stages of life.

“For me, part of being a member of this council is about helping others to speak confidently to care providers and having proper, open conversations.

“We all need to take control of our own health.”

Last updated: 24 February 2020