A new team is set to position St Vincent’s as a leader in Aboriginal healthcare and research in a hospital setting, building on a decades-long commitment to working with the community to improve health outcomes.
‘We want to build on the great work that’s already happening and help it grow. We can draw on the depth of experience at St Vincent’s, what we’ve learned and how it has contributed to a better experience and outcome for our Aboriginal patients,’ says Toni Mason, Manager of the new Aboriginal Health Unit.
The Unit brings together the Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer (AHLO) program, and quality improvement, cultural awareness, training, and cadetships. The formation of the team reflects community needs but also the success of our AHLO program, which was Victoria’s first when it was founded in 1982.
‘Many Aboriginal people don’t go to hospitals for fear of judgment, that they’ll be treated differently for not behaving in a certain way or that they’re sick because they’ve lived a certain lifestyle,’ Toni says.
‘It leads to situations where, for example, Aboriginal people are not engaging in cancer screening processes so we see them at a much later stage – you can be giving them a diagnosis and talking about palliative care in the same sentence.
‘The AHLOs have a deep understanding of community and cultural needs. They ensure that a person’s social and emotional wellbeing is considered.
‘Our AHLOs are very visible, they’re always on the wards and talking to people, they’re very friendly and approachable. That is so important for our patients but it has been just as valuable for our non-Aboriginal staff.
‘The AHLOs don’t work in isolation but very much alongside the treating team. It increases understanding and creates an environment where Aboriginal health is everyone’s business, which has laid the foundations for new projects and research in cardiac and cancer care.
‘With the Aboriginal Health Unit we can build on those strong foundations and become more strategic and sustainable – that will help us have an even larger positive impact on the health of Aboriginal patients here and at other hospitals.’
St Vincent’s is the largest provider of healthcare to Aboriginal adults in Victoria, caring for more than 5,000 people every year. Just as the Mercy is the hospital of choice for most Aboriginal mums-to-be, Toni says many people bypass other hospitals and come to St Vincent’s when they’re unwell.
‘It’s word of mouth, that if you need anything you go to these hospitals, it’s ok, which is a nice thing.’