Care in the community
Many in the Goulburn Valley region may be unaware that the Community Health team – based at Corio St in Shepparton – provides a wide range of primary health care services including dietetics, sexual health nursing, occupational therapy, podiatry, physiotherapy, speech pathology, counselling and social work.
Program Manager Carolynne Winbanks has been with GV Health for two and a half years, and brings with her a wealth of experience, having worked in healthcare in Melbourne, Swan Hill, Tasmania, Darwin and Alice Springs.
“Most of the people we serve range in age from babies to the age of sixty five,” Ms Winbanks said. “Our core business is supporting toddler-age children to six year olds who require interventions before they start school,” said Ms Winbanks. “We assist with treatment, assessment and diagnosis, and it’s not just managing physical symptoms – it’s helping with behavioural, social and mental health.”
The Community Health team assists people in managing their own chronic issues, and also to help tackle the social outcomes around mental health, trauma and family violence.
“While my background is in acute nursing management,” said Ms Winbanks. “Our role at Corio Street is more community-focused.”
The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program supports vulnerable women who need support throughout their pregnancies. This can include newly arrived mothers , and mothers with dependency or family violence issues.
Outreach Worker Debhrina Fuller’s role is to keep these ,mothers engaged with maternity services, their GP, and other related services.
“My role is to ensure that a mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing is the best it can be upon giving birth,” said Ms Fuller. “This involves case management and outreach, identifying risks and barriers that might stop the most vulnerable new mothers from being the best parent they can be.”
Ms Fuller, who has been a social worker for two decades, took on the newly created position in November. Since then she has supported 27 mums, of which 16 so far have given birth.
“The best bit is when the babies arrive,” said Ms Fuller. “Seeing mums and bubs do well and to be able to enable that mum to be as physically and emotionally well as she can be, to offer a better future for the baby is so great.”
Her manager is full of praise for her work.
“They just love Debhrina!” Ms Winbanks said.
Occupational Therapist Hayley Tascott and Speech Pathologist Catherine Teskera work together closely, which is made evident by their uncanny ability to finish one another’s sentences.
Ms Tascott and Ms Teskera, who mainly work with children from birth to school age, perform combined assessment, therapy and group sessions, and also help support with autism assessments in the region.
“Many people in the community are unaware that we specialise in language and development assessment,” said Ms Teskera.
“We triage together and seeing the family collectively,” said Ms Tapscott. “A Speech Pathologist, Physiotherapist, an Occupational Therapist and a Dietitian work together to try to come up with a family-oriented approach.”
The team runs a Language and Development Clinic for children with complex needs every Wednesday. This includes intensive therapy and helps benefit kids by working together in a group.
“It’s a rewarding position,” said Ms Tapscott. “You get to work with some really cool kids and great parents.”
The GV Community Health team offer the only free/ low cost Occupational Therapy and Speech Pathology service in our region. For many vulnerable families, the service is the only available point of entry to care. The service can often be a stepping stone, providing an assessment and then referral onwards to other services.
Ms Teskera says this is a luxury many other services don’t offer.
“We work in a very collaborative team,” she said. “I find it really great that we can work together to get much better outcomes with families because we work so closely. Everyone’s really happy to support them – it’s fantastic.”
Health Promotions Officer Lucy Stephens also has a unique job.
Ms Stephens promotes health prevention, healthy eating and active living in Greater Shepparton and Strathbogie, with the support of other linked services across the region.
“One of the biggest things we do is Smiles for Miles,” said Ms Stephens. “This program aims to improve oral health prevention in early childhood.”
Working with the GV Health Dental Service, the Smiles for Miles program covers 32 services in the region and sees around 1060 children in the area.
“We have a huge geographical reach,” said Ms Stephens. “We encourage children to brush well, eat well and clean well. That means eating a balanced diet, drinking tap water with fluoride, eating healthy foods and visiting a dentist regularly.”
Ms Stephens’ role is also designed to help change policies and attitudes to eating, engaging with families and organisations to encourage them to consider what they eat more carefully.
“Primary prevention is definitely the long game in health,” said Ms Stephens, who is also working to promote better eating within GV Health.
“All hospitals are expected to offer healthy food options,” she said. “Unfortunately unhealthy foods are our bestselling foods in our cafe, so we’re attempting to promote and educate staff and the community about healthier options.”
Ms Stephens says effecting healthy eating change can be a challenging, longterm process. She says that events like the recent one promoting indigenous culture through food can help raise community awareness and help change structures around the availability of healthy eating options.
“It’s really fun and often easier to help kids, and then help educate parents because they’re the ones who buy the food.”
The Community Health team has three Dietitians on staff.
Nicole Cashin, Jess Wiltshire and Alison Green see clients ranging from paediatrics through to 65 years old. This can include babies who are failing to gain weight in their first few weeks of life to people with diabetes, cholesterol, malnutrition, allergies and obesity issues.
“The variety makes our job interesting,” said Ms Cashin. “The first appointment is an hour, then we make our assessment and come up with a plan to help people better manage their health goals from a dietary point of view.”
Ms Wiltshire, who has been with GV Health for six years, says that even a one-off group information session can help a client get their diet onto the right track.
“One of the challenges in regional areas can be large waiting lists,” she said. “We confront a lot of chronic health conditions like obesity and high cholesterol locally, but these can sometimes unfortunately be a lower priority over an infant who may be failing to thrive at three weeks old.”
“We have had great feedback,” said Ms Cashin. “Getting information to clients as a group is much quicker than waiting for an individual appointment. Many people are bringing their spouses after that first session – it’s a great result.”
The Community Health run several programs tailored to help educate people on their eating habits.
Healthy Life Self Management is a group designed for clients needing guidance on diabetes prevention, cholesterol management and healthy eating in general.
Ms Cashin also runs monthly shopping tours, which last for up to two hours.
“We teach the community how to make sense of labels, what’s practical information and what’s just marketing,” she said. “Up to four people can join in, so we don’t block up the aisles and drive other customers crazy.”
The Community Health team’s goal is to meet local needs and enable better health outcomes for the community.
The Community Health Team accepts referrals from the Greater Shepparton area and surrounding areas, excluding situations where there is not a suitable service closer to the individual’s place of residence.
In most cases, people of all ages are eligible for Community Health Team services. A waiting period may apply and each client is seen according to their individual need.
“The benefit of working as a team at GV Health is that there is an opportunity to share solutions and support one another as part of a group,” Health Promotions Officer Lucy Stephens explained.
“The greatest bit of the job is seeing people get it,” said Dietitian Jess Wiltshire. “The lightbulb goes off, and then it’s great to see people coming back and reporting on their success.”
“I really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other health professionals and have a more holistic approach to caring for patients,” said Dietitian Nicole Cashin. “It means better outcomes for the client.”
“The best part of the job is the teamwork,” said Program Manager Carolynne Winbanks. “We are able to deliver services a little more creatively, because we don’t have acutely unwell people. We’re a one stop shop here at Corio St.”
Occupational Therapist Hayley Tapscott has the final word.
“I love my job. Working with these awesome kids and families - it’s so rewarding to be able to make a difference. I’m never leaving!”