Culture at the bedside
Published at: 05 Jul 2018
A stay in hospital can be a confronting time, leading some to feelings of fear, sadness, home sickness and isolation. GV Health’s four Aboriginal Liaison Officers are on call to help patients with their pathway through care.
Cynthia Scott and Carol Collie are the health service’s two dedicated ALOs.
Ms Scott, who has been with GV Health for 11 years, explains that the concept of the ALO position began in 1982.
“Previous to that there was an Aboriginal advisory role,” Ms Scott said.
“The ALO role evolved to ensure Aboriginal people came through, felt supported and ensured there was a local face familiar to the community to let people know that it was a safe place to come.”
ALOs help patients talk to health professionals, understand medical procedures and routines and assist patients in conversations and decisions about their care.
“Our roles are very diverse,” Ms Collie said, who has been in the role for seven years.
“We’re looking at the entire spectrum of care for a patient - who are they engaged with? Are they with a health care provider?”
That can often involve being at the bedside to interpret medical terminology for the patient, but also to help hospital staff with cultural sensitivity and other issues.
“We have lot to do with discharge planning, linking and making referrals to our own community and the broader community,” Ms Collie said.
Ms Scott and Ms Collie were both born in Shepparton, and are proud of their excellent relationship with their community.
Both have extensive backgrounds in health work, including mental health, case management, foster care and drug and alcohol support roles.
“No day is ever the same,” Ms Scott said.
“We could be the Aunt, and then making contact with service providers so they stop services going into the home, and then go chasing doctors or medications – we’re flat out.”
Ms Collie agrees, pointing out that she and Ms Scott cover the scope of GV Health’s services in order to support community.
That can mean being present in the acute ward setting or covering the Emergency Department when the Aboriginal Health Transition Officer (AHTO) is not available.
“Even after hours, we may meet up with a community member on the street or in the supermarket,” she said.
“They’re wanting to engage with us in conversation about what’s happening with them, how their hospital visit went. It’s an ongoing engagement.”
Chanoa Cooper is currently filling the role of GV Health’s AHTO as part of a maternity contract.
The AHTO role is designed to improve the patient’s journey between the hospital and primary care services, providing support and follow up for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who present to GV Health’s Emergency Department (ED).
“I’m in the ED Monday to Wednesday,” Ms Cooper said.
“I’ve found that no two days are the same, it’s a hectic environment.”
Originally from Shepparton, Ms Cooper moved back recently to take up the AHTO role.
“All my family’s here, this is where I’m from,” she said.
“I was looking to work with community – that’s where my passion lies.”
The AHTO links patients into primary health services and other community supports, ensuring that follow up care continues and that any barriers to receiving care are identified and resolved.
“My role is around that transition process, once a patient has presented themselves at emergency,” Ms Cooper said.
“Whatever their circumstance I will support the patient and family, chat to the doctors and nurses about a health care plan.”
Ms Cooper takes part in ward visits and helps coordinate services for patients with organisations throughout the region.
“I always talk about why I’m there – patient education. A lot of people don’t know they have this kind of support available to them.”
As an AHTO, her aim is to help improve the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leave the ED linked to an additional health service, and reduce the numbers leaving prior to or without completing treatment.
“It’s about how best we can communicate and keep communication lines open,” she said. “If patients need other services and support outside of the hospital I can organise that.”
Mental Health ALO Andrew McKnight has been with GV Health since 2001.
His role is to provide emotional, social and cultural support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and their families.
Mental Health ALOs also provide information and support to GV Health staff to help them provide culturally sensitive health services.
“I’m here to look after clients when they come on the ward,” Mr McKnight said.
“I ensure their rights are being met and help support them in accessing other services.”
ALOs make arrangements for hospital admissions and discharge.
They also help link patients to appropriate community support programs, agencies and services.
“With patients on the ward, it’s client focused - it’s their choice if I am involved,” Mr McKnight said.
“A lot of community members still want that privacy. I’m servicing the community I’m a part of, and my job is to offer support if they ask for linkages to other services.”
Mr McKnight says his role covers aged care, mental health, early mental health, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
“I’m involved with any program that runs through mental health, covering Cobram to King Lake and everywhere in between,” he said.
“It’s great for community to know what services are available to them, and how to access them.”
GV Health’s ALOs are based in the Minya Barmah Room at the health service's Graham St campus.
The traditional Yorta Yorta meaning of Minya Barmah is ‘a spiritual meeting place’ – this is a space where all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are welcome to share a chat, cup of tea or just relax.
Cynthia Scott is most passionate about ensuring the local Indigenous community have equal access, good care and support as they navigate the public health system.
”Our job is to paint a picture of what’s happening for a person coming from community,” she said.
“It’s really holistic - it’s not just about treatment and medication and going home, it’s about what we can do to help the community to ensure a patient doesn’t rebound back into hospital.”
Carol Collie embraces the opportunity to work directly with her own community.
“Having an Aboriginal Liaison Officer available at GV Health is vitally important to help community members feel safe and comfortable to access hospital services, and someone who can explain a procedure more fully, in a way or in a language they can understand, makes a huge difference.”
“I think over the years we’ve made it a better journey for our people, and given the staff good support as well,” Ms Scott said.
“Staff are not just looking at Western medicine, but also looking at social and emotional wellbeing.”
They both agree that supporting the community through the entire pathway to care is a rewarding part of supporting the Indigenous community in the Goulburn Valley region.
“It’s about looking at the bigger picture,” Ms Scott said.
“In a nutshell we support the many journeys through GV Health - we do culture at the bedside.”