Graphic: Case Study: Aboriginal Health Coordinator

Case Study: Aboriginal Health Coordinator

Date published

15 Nov 2019

Case Study: Aboriginal Health Coordinator A dedicated cultural and social support service to Aboriginal patients during their admission to – and discharge from – the Port Augusta Hospital and Step-Down Unit

The Aboriginal Health Coordinator provides in-hospital cultural and social support to remote patients has reduced the rate of premature return to community and putting themselves at risk of return to ill-health and re-admission to hospital.

The ‘one-stop-shop’ health support service also ensures prescriptions are filled and has promoted a near-perfect attendance rate of out-patient medical appointments by Aboriginal patients during their time in Port Augusta. 

“Our RFDS Aboriginal Health Coordinator provides a critical role in following up on patient referrals to prevent outback residents falling through the cracks and, ultimately, returning to the health system as an acute patient,” says Mandy Smallacombe, RFDS Primary Care Manager.

“The Coordinator works in collaboration with our Doctors and Community Health Nurses as part of our ‘Shared Care’ model of care for remote patients of the RFDS Port Augusta Primary Health Care Service,” Mandy says.

A non-clinical role, the Aboriginal Health Coordinator is employed by the RFDS and funded by long-term corporate partner, Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL) as part of its Community Investment Program.

In her role as Aboriginal Health Coordinator, Denise Martin supports outback patients during their treatment at Port Augusta Hospital or the hospital’s Step Down Unit (short-stay hostel).

Denise’s clients are not solely patients who have been airlifted by RFDS crews to the Port Augusta Hospital due to injury or illness. They include remote residents who need to travel and stay for a short or extended period at Port Augusta for medical treatment, most often pregnant women in their final month of pregnancy waiting to give birth. 

Visiting clients daily, Denise provides access, advice and advocacy of the health system, with a particular focus on those who have the added burden of being in a totally foreign environment and dislocated from family support or community.

A lady is sat in a wheelchair. She holds hands with a lady in RFDS uniform, they are smiling. A RFDS aircraft is in the background.

“Arriving from community, many clients find hospital a totally foreign environment and intimidating to say the least,” Denise says. 

“Often a barrier to medical care is ‘worry’ about leaving family members behind in community – even when it is at the expense of receiving medical treatment for themselves,” – Denise Martin

“There are distinct cultural differences, language and literacy barriers, all of which complicate the public systems of financial support through to the logistics of booking a bus ticket or transport home,” she says.

“My role is to support cultural safety, social well-being and encourage attendance of medical appointments.

“I also advocate the health system as a level of mistrust remains in health and support services due to the realistic fear and shame that their children may be taken away,” she says.

In 2018/19, Denise’s clients have achieved  99 percent attendance rate at out-patient medical appointments by clients during their stay in Port Augusta.

“Without support, encouragement and advocacy of the health system clients will often discharge themselves from hospital before the completion of essential medical treatment,” Mandy says.

“Culturally appropriate care involves time. Denise spends valuable time with clients and their families ‘yarning’ about their barriers to health care – this is a valuable resource, unseen in many medical fields,” she says.