Aboriginal Health

As a signatory to the Closing the Gap Statement of Intent, St Vincent’s Hospital remains committed to providing the highest quality of patient centred and culturally sensitive care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. In 2013–14 St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne provided 8047 occasions of care to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander patients.

St Vincent’s continues to strive to keep the voice of the Aboriginal community at the heart of all that we do. In collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, the St Vincent’s Aboriginal Health Advisory Committee was recommenced earlier this year.

This committee includes members from a variety of community health and wellbeing services and meets quarterly to act as a reporting body for all Aboriginal developments across the health service and make recommendations regarding Aboriginal health issues.

An array of initiatives focused on improving patient care have taken place this year across a range of departments including the renal unit, continence and dementia services, palliative care, cancer care and pharmacy. In addition, work has been undertaken in developing community consultation protocols to support Aboriginal health research.

St Vincent’s Senior Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer, Michelle Gallagher-Winters, is leading groups of clinicians on a walking tour of the Fitzroy area to improve cultural understanding of Aboriginal healthcare issues.

Groups follow the Fitzroy Aboriginal Heritage Walking Trail, marked by 16 plaques to commemorate places of significant, former and current sites of influential Aboriginal services.

The walking tours are an important part of the education the Aboriginal health team provide to staff, starting the conversation with clinicians, working to break down barriers and remove stereotypes, while encouraging them to bring this knowledge to their work.

“The aim is to bridge the gaps and start building relationships,” Michelle says. “We want to work alongside multicultural interests and promote unity. “Aboriginal health issues today can be very complex and the tours help provide understanding of what clinicians are seeing today, caused by generations of trauma.  Even if some staff don’t understand at first the importance of the tour, they realise by the end.” Demand for the tour is high, with Michelle conducting the tours at least once per week and on request.

The feedback from clinicians has been just as strong – a group of St Vincent’s Clinical School students who recently completed the tour were glowing in their comments. “It was a very informative and eye-opening session, especially in regard to Aboriginal health and the issues facing the Aboriginal community,” said one of the students.

All students believed that the information presented in the tour was highly relevant to their work. “By making cultural awareness training available to all staff, we can increase people’s awareness of the history of the Aboriginal people and alleviate some of the anxiety when Aboriginal people come to a mainstream health service.”

According to Michelle, creating meaningful relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is about more than just reconciliation, it is about showing a genuine interest. “If a staff member says to a patient, ‘I’ve been on the Aboriginal walking tour and learnt a lot about the history here’, the patient might feel a little more comfortable with that staff member and the treatment that follows.”

Working with staff
Under the cultural guidance of our Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers, our staff continue to be assisted in making meaningful connections and developing relationships with a number of key Aboriginal community services across a range of fields including aged care, alcohol and other drugs, housing and employment. St Vincent’s staff continue to be offered a number of opportunities to build their cultural knowledge. These include targeted presentations, introductions to Aboriginal Health at Orientation, provision of reading materials and literature and the Local Aboriginal Heritage Walking Tour. In addition, our Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers have taken part in a number of state-wide and national initiatives such as an online training model for the Australian College of Emergency Medicine.

Working with the community
St Vincent’s invites many community members to significant Aboriginal events. In May, the Aboriginal Celebrations Committee held a reflection service for National Sorry Day. The reflection offered an opportunity for St Vincent’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community to come together to reflect on the past atrocities faced by Aboriginal people, share songs and stories about the Stolen Generations and light candles of acknowledgement, unity and healing. St Vincent’s Art Program, offers a studio dedicated to Aboriginal artists as part of St Vincent’s Artist-In-Residence program.

During last year’s Reconciliation Week, St Vincent’s hosted the annual Aboriginal Art Exhibition, showcasing artworks from a number of Aboriginal artists. Staff also took part in a range of NAIDOC week events and celebrations, including the NAIDOC Week March alongside staff from other hospitals and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.

Improving employment
St Vincent’s commitment to helping grow and support an Aboriginal workforce is endorsed in our Aboriginal Employment Plan. This year, under the leadership of the Nursing Education Unit, St Vincent’s is piloting an Aboriginal Graduate Nursing Program. This program, in conjunction with the existing Aboriginal Nursing Cadetships Program, provides cultural mentoring from an Aboriginal nurse.

Together, these programs help offer a pathway for aspiring Aboriginal nurses to complete their university studies as well as transition to and successfully complete a graduate nursing year at a tertiary metropolitan hospital. St Vincent’s also continues to support Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers (AHLOs) to work effectively across the hospital through the provision of clinical and cultural supervision, access to professional development opportunities, and linkage with key staff across the hospital in two-way learning models.

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