Culturally-geared frontline health services are helping to Close the Gap

Culturally-geared frontline health services are helping to Close the Gap

08 July 2013


In the spirit of NAIDOC Week, which is about encompassing and acknowledging the past and reflecting on achievements whilst looking to the future, many of the Medicare Local programs prove that improvements are being made towards closing the gap in life expectancy and disadvantage for Indigenous Australians.

AML Alliance Chair, Dr Arn Sprogis said more than 400 frontline service personnel are a part of the Medicare Local Close the Gap workforce which is systematically changing the way health services are being offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Gains cannot be made to reduce the gap in life expectancy and disadvantage for Indigenous Australians unless we get the frontline services tailored appropriately for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, Dr Sprogis said.

Thats what Medicare Locals are doing now, planning, consulting and working on developing their relationships and partnerships with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and state affiliates who are the right people and organisations that help to match the health needs of Indigenous Australians so that we can work a lot better at keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people well and out of hospital, he said.

All sectors must draw on their respective strengths in primary health care to share in the best way forward to achieve improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, he said.
Examples of how Medicare Locals are making a difference:

  • work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait people and/or organisations to encourage Aboriginal people to self-identify with mainstream services so that they can receive culturally safe care and gain access to Indigenous health services and appropriate screening for conditions known to be more prevalent and presenting earlier in Indigenous patients
  • educate and train non-Indigenous health providers around cultural safety and informing them of Indigenous entitlements to specific programs and benefits
  • support Indigenous chronic disease management through the Care Coordination and Supplementary Services program
  • deliver an Otitis Media program for Indigenous communities
  • employ and support Project Officers and Outreach Workers to work in Indigenous communities.

Medicare Locals are uniquely positioned as an agent for change within their own communities and at a grass roots level. The local impact of Medicare Locals is clearly seen through the programs and initiatives MLs have developed within their communities, for example:

  • A partnership agreement between Country North SA ML and Goldfields Midwest ML to improve the delivery of Aboriginal health services across borders
  • Northern Territory ML working with the Larrakia Nation to fund a Care Coordinator to work with Indigenous homeless communities in Alice Springs and Darwin
  • The appointments by Far North Queensland ML of a Senior Manager Health Collaboration, based on Thursday Island and working remotely from the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Hospital and Health Services facility; a Cultural Adviser to guide collaborative work throughout Cape York and the funding of five new Care Coordinators to work with the local Aboriginal Medical Services
  • A program for young expectant Indigenous mothers, in which they learn about health issues and what to expect during that time and a few years on, through the Townsville-Mackay ML
  • The establishment of holistic, culturally-informed Wellbeing Centres that are addressing the mental health needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Lower Gulf, through the Central & North West QLD ML
  • Perth North Metro ML, whose Aboriginal Art YO Program uses a My Art My Family approach to deliver an art-based therapy program to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people experiencing emotional or mental health issues
  • Bentley-Armadale MLs Moorditj Koorlingahs (Kids in the Kitchen) Program, a nutrition and exercise program aimed at young Aboriginal children in the last few years of primary school
  • Lower Murray MLs Otitis Media program, visiting local Kindergarten kids to teach them to look after their ears through the My Ears storybook
  • Eastern Sydney ML supporting the La Perouse Aboriginal and United Mens Association in the set-up of a Fruit and Vegie Collective; proving the community with healthy food options at a low cost
  • Southern NSW MLs Koori Booris mums and bubs clinic and playgroup, offering pregnancy and parenting care to Aboriginal parents and their children; and Deadly Dads camps and activity days focusing on healthy fatherhood and grandfatherhood
  • ACT ML has successfully launched an Indigenous cultural awareness program for Allied Health workers. In recognition of the success of the program, Closing the Gap Indigenous Outreach Worker, Cookie Chatfield has been nominated for a NAIDOC award
  • The hugely successful 'Women's Business' women's health initiative, run by the Central Queensland ML
  • Central Adelaide & Hills ML is partnering with Keep it Corka which is a healthy lifestyles campaign about raising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Quality of Life.

This year NAIDOC Week celebrates the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions to the Federal Parliament. In 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land presented the Australian House of Representatives with two bark petitions framed by traditional ochre paintings of clan designs. The petitions sought the recognition by the Commonwealth of the Yolngu peoples traditional rights and ownership of their lands and the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Tasmania ML is holding a community bark painting session at the Aboriginal Health Service in Ulverstone, North West Tasmania on 9 July, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions.