NACCHO political news: Canberra Aboriginal health service needs to work from tents

Tent Photo  Low Res

Aboriginal health service face accommodation crisis:

40,000 episodes of care a year with 3 nurses to a room                                                         

Doctors, nurses and midwives at the ACT Region‘s premier Aboriginal health service will protest their accommodation crisis by working from tents outside of the Narrabundah-based Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service on Thursday and Friday – August 29 and 30.


Picture Above: GP Registrar Dr Andrew Palfreman examines patient Kale Moore inside one of the tents outside Winnunga.

“We are desperate for funding to extend our building,” said Winnunga’s long-serving CEO Julie Tongs.(pictured below with Warren Snowdon and Tom Calma)


“Our accommodation crisis is acute.  We are desperate for extra space.

“We have three midwives sharing one office with the same number of nurses also having to share the one room.

“Repeated efforts to secure the $1.3 million required to extend the existing building, from both ACT and Commonwealth – have fallen on deaf ears.

“This despite the fact that the need for our services is increasing, not decreasing.

Ms Tongs said from humble beginnings 25 years ago Winnunga was now one of the major health service providers in the region.


“We employ some 68 staff and control a budget that now exceeds eight million dollars a year.

“We now have more than 4000 clients and deliver more than 40,000 episodes of care a year.

“We are an Aboriginal community controlled health service and deliver a coordinated holistic approach to health care.

Ms Tongs said Winnunga not only wanted to continue delivering a high quality service but was keen to offer an even more comprehensive service.

‘Our capacity to increase service delivery is limited when key staff are having to share accommodation and are unable to work with clients in confidence.

“Given how sick so many of our clients are – Winnunga provides services to 873 clients who have a diagnosed mental illness. 343 of those clients have a dual diagnosis and are also self-medicating and have a substance use problem. It is crucial that they can be assisted with respect and confidentially.

“While I believe Winnunga is held in high regard by Government both locally and nationally I urge both Federal and ACT Government health funding departments to get serious about our plight.

“Staff wouldn’t be staging this protest unless it was serious,” Ms Tongs said.


Further information:  

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service

Julie Tongs OAM   0418 206156

or Peter Windsor 0400 554603

Please Note:

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service is a member of NACCHO

One comment on “NACCHO political news: Canberra Aboriginal health service needs to work from tents

  1. WIRADJURI woman Julie Tongs is not impressed with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s pledge to appoint Warren Mundine chairman of a proposed prime minister’s indigenous advisory council.

    Mr Abbott made the election promise on a trip to Arnhem Land but, working just six kilometres from Parliament House as the chief executive of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, Ms Tongs said the time for talking was over.

    ”We need action on the ground,” she said. ”There are so many reports that have gone before this … but if only we had implemented the actions in the reports we would be a lot further along that road. It’s frustrating because every time someone new comes in they do all these reviews and we go back over old ground again.”

    Ms Tongs, 60, buried her 37-year-old son four years ago. He was schizophrenic but died as a result of uncontrolled diabetes.


    ”When people come here, we are just dealing with the crisis – we have to be more proactive,” Ms Tongs said.

    ”We have three nurses working out of one clinic room and that’s not ideal. We should have a room for each and, after they see the GP, they can get a health check.”

    Last month, the health service resorted to buying tents for indigenous Australians who had relocated to the territory and sent them to the tent embassy because no accommodation was available.

    ”We desperately need more funding for more clinic rooms,” she said. ”Often, indigenous Canberrans get overlooked. We’re an affluent city and it just seems like people don’t see disadvantage – and we see disadvantage and poverty every day.”

    Last financial year, the clinic saw 4002 clients and provided care on more than 38,000 occasions. It has a budget of $8 million from federal and local sources but Ms Tongs said another $4.2 million was needed for staff and infrastructure as caseworkers were overloaded.

    The health centre has operated for 25 years. Ms Tongs has worked there for 16.

    ”There has been a lot of improvement but 16 years ago it was heroin and marijuana and some speed,” she said. ”The substances are changing so the behaviours are changing. When someone’s on heroin, they are on the nod. When someone is on ice, it’s very different.”

    She said at least one client every week attended the centre in the middle of a psychotic episode.

    ”Trying to manage that when you have a waiting room full of people and need to keep them safe, it’s tough,” she said.

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