NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: VAHS marks 50 years of saving lives

feature tile image VAHS premises on Nicholson Street, Fitzroy; text 'Victorian Aboriginal Health Service celebrates 50 YEARS making a difference and saving lives'

The image in the feature tile is of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) premises on Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. The image appeared in an article by Bertrand Tungandame – VAHS celebrates 50 years making a difference and saving lives, published by NTIV Radio on 25 Auguste 2023.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

VAHS marks 50 years of saving lives

The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) was set up in 1973 by Aunty Alma Thorpe, Uncle Bruce McGuiness and other Aboriginal community advocates as a place where Aboriginal people could access medical and social care in a time when racism and other barriers prevented Aboriginal people accessing care. Marking the 50th anniversary on August 18, 2023, VAHS Chairperson Tony McCartney reflected on the importance of the date in the history of not only Aboriginal health, but in the Aboriginal rights movement of Melbourne, Victoria, and Australia at the time.

“…VAHS is the oldest Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation in Victoria, and second oldest in the country. Since its inception VAHS has been instrumental in self-determined Aboriginal health and wellbeing in Australia. Since starting from humble beginnings and with volunteers at the small shop front in Fitzroy to a place community members called a home away from home – we have grown into a service with sites across Fitzroy, Preston, Epping and expanding to St Albans in our 50th year,” Tony McCartney said.

Over the years VAHS has achieved many supports and firsts in Australia – including establishing the first Aboriginal dental clinic that travelled around Victoria and to border towns, the first Aboriginal women and children’s program and the country’s leading Aboriginal health worker education program Koori Kollij.

To read the VAHS media release VAHS celebrates five decades of making a difference and saving lives in full click here. You can also listen NITV Radio podcast of VAHS Chairperson Tony McCartner talking about the history of VAHS here.

tile VAHS 50 years 1973-2023 Respect our past. Honour our present. To build our future.

UQ student dental clinic making a difference

Gavin Saltner, Wulli Wulli man is among more than 800 rural patients who attend a student-run dental clinic in SW Queensland each year. The UQ Dental Clinic — run by supervised fifth-year dental students — opened at Dalby 10 years ago, with another practice opening more recently at St George. Mr Saltner said having access to the clinic was important, with cost and travel time making dental treatment prohibitive for some Western Downs residents.

A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) earlier this year found that regional and remote populations had poorer oral health standards than those in the city. It also found that access to fewer dentists, longer travel times and limited transport options impacted the oral health care rural residents received. But the model of the dental clinics in SW Queensland has been deemed so successful it could be used elsewhere. The clinics are a partnership between the university and Indigenous organisation Goondir Health Services.

Goondir Health Services executive Shubham Weling said the unique co-location model and a student-led workforce had the potential to be replicated across a range of allied health fields. “We’re opening a clinic in Chinchilla as well and we want to advocate for this model out there,” Mr Weling said. He said placing the clinics’ treatment rooms within the Indigenous organisation’s building allowed for easy referrals to other services. “So you’ve got cross influence between GPs, dentists, as well as disability support workers for the one client,” Mr Weling said. “It improves the uptake of services and just overall health outcomes and family gain because it’s all interrelated.”

To view the ABC News article UQ free dental health clinic in Dalby improves Indigenous oral health outcomes in full click here.

ATSI man Gavin Saltner in in dental chair at UQ Dalby Dentral Clinic, Goodnir Aboriginal Health Services & Dental Clinic

Gavin Saltner is a regular patient at the UQ Dalby Dental Clinic. The clinic is embedded within the Goondir Health Services facility and treats about 800 Indigenous patients a year. Photo: Laura Cocks, ABC Southern Qld.

Kidney Health 4 Life effectiveness study

Newly diagnosed with kidney disease and want more support? Then Kidney Health 4 Life might be for you!!

This September, Kidney Health Australia is launching a research study to assess the effectiveness of Kidney Health 4 Life , a pilot program designed to help people with kidney disease to self-manage their condition. By participating in the study, you will have access to the program before it goes to the wider public, as well as helping to shape the future of kidney disease support.

You may be eligible for the study if you meet the following criteria:

  • Adults (18+ years) diagnosed with early to mid-stage CKD (Stages 1-4) within the past 12 months (from time of enrolment)
  • Adults (18+ years) who have commenced dialysis (both PD and HD) in the past 12 months (from time of enrolment)

Eligible participants will be assigned to either the program group or standard support group. This will help determine how effective the program is compared to Kidney Health Australia’s standard support. People assigned to the program group will have access to online modules covering topics such as diet and nutrition, disease management, exercise, and managing stress and sleep. Health coaching will also be offered.

People assigned to the standard support group will have access to Kidney Health Australia’s current services including Helpline and Kidney Buddy peer support program and extensive resources. The good news for those assigned to the standard support group is that they will have access to the full KH4L program once the study is complete

If you think you fit the eligibility criteria, you can submit an EOI form on the Kidney Health Australia website hereHURRY. Places are limited.

Kidney Health Australia tile text 'are you new to kidney disease or dialysis & need more support? Apply for the KH4L research study today.

Just 3 in 10 kids had a health check in 2021–22

Just three in 10 First Nations children aged 0–14 years received a health check within the past year, according to new data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The AIHW report — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific primary health care: results from the OSR and nKPI collections, available here, contained data collected from more than 200 organisations.

A total of 586,000 First Nations patients were treated between 2021 and 2022, but only 30% of children had a formal health check in the previous 12 months, making target 4 of the Closing the Gap agreement’s socioeconomic outcome areas — which reads “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children thrive in their early years” — seemingly further away than ever.

With regards to other preventive health measures, 45% of patients received an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessment and 47% received a risk assessment for heart disease in the last two years. 70% of patients aged 11 and over had their smoking status recorded in the past year, of which 53% reported quitting smoking or never smoking. Among First Nations patients assessed for CVD risk, 58% aged 35-74 with no known history of CVD reported a low absolute risk within the last two years, 35% were high risk and 7% had a moderate risk. 65% of First Nations patients with type two diabetes reported blood pressure results within recommended guidelines in the past six months, while more than half had a chronic disease management plan completed within the past two years.

To view the Health Services Daily article Just three in 10 First Nations kids had health check in past year in full click here.

young ATSI child having ear check

Image source: QLD Government Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service webpage.

Mental Health for Mob fills service gap

Walgalu-Ngambri and Dharawal woman and Mental Health for Mob founder Kristen Franks has seen and heard a lot over the past decade working in the mental health sector. She has worked across towns in central west NSW and in Canberra and its surrounding regions and helped an array of people – from children, the young, schools and families to pregnant women, the suicidal or self-harming, those with behavioural disorders and in the criminal justice system.

“Throughout all this, I noticed that I was often the first Aboriginal mental health clinician an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person would see,” Kristen says. “It was incredibly difficult to hear this was the first time they’d felt culturally safe [and that] they’ve never felt heard or connected because there was no lived experience understanding.” A decade of hearing this message reached fever pitch in late 2021 when Kristen’s community and Elders supported her to meet this cultural need.

While Kristen never intended to make a profit from offering free mental health care, she soon found herself staring down the hard realities of starting a non-profit organisation. Insurance, registrations and finding a space for clients, to name a few. All while Kristen held down a full-time job and tried to begin to address an “overwhelming” community need. Over the following six months, crowdfunding and some modest grants transformed Mental Health for Mob from an Instagram page that shared mental health resources to a fully fledged mental health service.

You can read the Riotact article How Kristen turned an Instagram page into a culturally safe mental health service in less than six months in full here.

Kristen Franks' face with white body paint & Mental Health for Mob logo

Kristen Franks established Mental Health for Mob. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Emergency aeromedical evacuation training

About 7 million of Australians (about 30%) live in rural and remote areas. People living in these areas have poorer health outcomes overall according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), and also have access to fewer primary, secondary and tertiary health services. Potentially preventable hospitalisations are twice as high as for those in metropolitan and regional areas. A 2023 Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) report found that Australians in rural and remote settings are at substantially higher risk of heart, stroke and vascular disease (accounting for a quarter of all RFDS missions), and the health services are not always there to support them.

A new agreement between CareFlight and Charles Darwin University (CDU) will give health students the opportunity to work in the Top End with emergency aeromedical retrieval teams on flights. The agreement creates clinical placements for future medical students at the CDU Menzies School of Medicine. The university will apply for 40 of 80 places in the Australian Government’s $114.2m Increasing Rural Medical Training Grant Opportunity to support the placements.

Ms Quinn is excited about the CDU partnership. “It is something we have wanted to do for years,” Ms Quinn said. “It is really important for building our workforce for the future. Our patients are some of the most disadvantaged in Australia; they have complex medical problems and disease processes. Students will see what it’s like to be an independent practitioner. It’s not just the medicine – it’s about logistics and making quick decisions,” Ms Quinn said, who added it was a privilege to work in those remote locations.

To view the InSight+ article Tyranny of distance: emergency aeromedical retrieval in outback Australia in full click here.

CareFlight van, plane, patient on gurney, 3 medical professionals

CareFlight treats and transports patients needing specialist care. Photo: CareFlight NT. Image source: InSight+.

Sector Jobs

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