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Apunipima trials new service model in Napranum

[by Tyrel Collins]

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Image: supplied

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Apunipima Cape York Health Council has teamed up with a number of key service providers in the Weipa region to trial an expanded approach to health care that encompasses the social factors that impact on health and wellbeing. 

The Coordinated Case Care trial being implemented by Apunipima is based on successful ‘social prescribing’ trials overseas with the focus being a full holistic assessment of individual and family need.  The trial’s development also draws on local consultation as well as research from other remote areas in Australia and has been tailored specifically to focus on the social determinants of health that impact on the health and wellbeing of Cape York communities.

This trial is designed to connect Apunipima clients with key service providers in community who will collaborate with the aim of eliminating the separation of health care from the social determinants that affect health and wellbeing. The result will be a ‘whole of family’ care system that, if successful, will draw the community social factors into the wider health sphere.

‘Health is not just about our physical wellbeing, we know that social, emotional and cultural factors impact on our health and wellbeing as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health organisations understand this but we need to be better at working collaboratively with other care providers so that individuals and families have access to health care and support services that appropriately respond to their needs’ said Apunipima CEO Debra Malthouse.

The trial will work with the members of five families and aims to look at all the social aspects of community life, from food security and fitness right through to home life, employment and financial health.  Mrs Malthouse believes the more stakeholders working together, the better placed Apunipima will be to implement a service model that benefits the community member.

“When you expand the care provider group to include any service that deals with the social aspects of community life, such as Council, employment agencies and Justice Groups, it brings many more voices to the table, and this trial is about engaging with and bringing those services into the health conversation,” she said.

The conduit for the trial – as always with community-controlled health care – will be the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker. The Health Worker led model is based on the premise that the health worker is the link between the client and the wider health system. The trial will still use this model, just in an expanded scope to include those social factors.

Apunipima’s Senior Project Officer Emma Burchill, who led the consultation and research for the trial, is excited by what the trial could show and believes this could pave the way for an improved service delivery model at Apunipima and other community-controlled health organisations.

“Over time, community health care has changed, and the health system has become more separated from the social lives of community members. We’re often in the dark about those determining social factors that affect health and wellbeing, and we want to see what happens when we combine that knowledge with our existing health services,” Mrs Burchill said.

Participants will undergo a social determinants assessment at the start of the trial with the purpose of creating a plan for them to follow. Throughout the trial the health worker will be the case manager working directly with individuals and families within the trial to support them to achieve the goals they identified in their plans. 

Weipa Community Care Association (WCCA) is the only social service outside of the hospital system in the Weipa area and provides a wide range of services from after-school care to domestic violence crisis management. Shaylee Gomes is the Community Connect worker for WCCA and says she is excited by what the trial could show.

“Everything that we’re trying to do here involves looking at the situation holistically, so I think coming together and networking as a community while engaging around the whole family unit is the best possible way to use the limited resources we have available,” she said.

According to Mrs Gomes, one of the biggest challenges the region has is continuity of care – largely caused by staffing issues and service overlap – something that could be vastly improved with the collaborative approach that the trial embraces.

“It’s all well and good to keep referring people to services but if we agree that capacity is an issue, then those referrals look great for reporting, but it’s not addressing the problem for the client. If we all work together as a team, we can workshop the best solution at the time for the individual client based on capacity across all services.”

It’s this collaboration and team-based approach that also has Weipa-based staff from the Department of Treaty and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Communities & the Arts, excited about the possibilities. The Queensland government department is a key advocacy group and works closely with Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council on strategic decision making.

“Having all the services at the table relevant for that family means we’re on the right track and, not just looking at the family holistically, but also individually because everyone is different and has different circumstances, and I think that’s the thing that this trial is really going to unpack,” said Senior Project Officer Darren Wall.

Mr Wall’s sentiments were echoed by Project Support Officer, Frances Wymarra. They both felt that service providers need to keep trying new things and the trial is a step in the right direction.

“We keep talking about closing the gap but we’re not doing anything really different, so this is something we need to try because it’s very different and that is exciting. The team has done everything they can for it to work and the structures are in place so hopefully we get a good response from the clients because we know that they have so many other social factors that compete and take priority over their health and wellbeing,” Mrs Wymarra said.

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