Introduction by Croakey: Enrolled nurses Rebecca Clinch and Renee Speedy are among Australia’s first Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinators.
They help Indigenous patients who have suffered from stroke or a traumatic brain injury in their rehabilitation, from the hospital bed to their return home, as part of Edith Cowan University’s Healing Right Way program.
The program is implementing the first culturally secure intervention package for Aboriginal survivors of acquired brain injury in Western Australia and nationally.
In the article below, Rebecca Clinch, a Ngadju/Yamatji woman, and Renee Speedy, a Noongar woman, talk about how their roles are bridging the gap in health and wellbeing support.
Rebecca Clinch writes:
I became a nurse because I wanted to help and empower people. I want patients to know that there are people who care about their health and their recovery, so the Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinator role really plays into that.
Sometimes there’s a communication breakdown in the health service. As an Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinator we can advocate for our clients when things aren’t being communicated in a way where all parties are on the same page.
We also remind our clients to ask questions if they don’t understand what’s being said, especially when dealing with people with a traumatic brain injury. I’m a nurse and sometimes I don’t even understand what’s being said!
The Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinators are helping to bridge the gap for patients, from being in hospital to going home and back into the community.
We get clients’ families saying they’re so glad we’re there to help them with the services they may have needed with their rehab. Our goal is to make rehab accessible and to make the most of what services are available. We want them to be OK. We offer our help to other healthcare providers and help where possible.
A lot of our job is emotional support for the families, being there for them as well as the person involved. And we can take advantage of the relationships we have in the community which some other health providers don’t have. We get emails letting us know some of our clients have missed appointments for whatever reason, so then we try to contact our clients. Sometimes that may mean we have to reach out in a lot of different ways to make contact, not just conventional ways, and also through different organisations.
We don’t give up on a second phone call, where mainstream services might if they have a wrong phone number or address. We then contact our clients or their carers to let them know about missed appointments or any upcoming appointments, or if they have to reschedule.
Renee Speedy writes:
I’ve always wanted to get into community-based health, and the Aboriginal Brain Injury Coordinator position sparked an interest and drew me in as it was a role in the community and acute care setting while participants were in hospital from acquiring a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It’s a role that has never been implemented before and it’s been great, I’ve enjoyed it.
Working as a nurse we’d see a lot of gaps in the healthcare system. We’d have to advocate and liaise and get people up to scratch for when they’re looking after Aboriginal people. In some cases, we’d have to arrange for referrals and have continuous engagement with allied health, ensuring families were being informed and kept up to date with information.
Healing Right Way incorporates cultural awareness training, which is run through certain hospitals. It’s a biggie for the healthcare system, in general, because it allows non-Indigenous healthcare workers to engage and educate themselves on Aboriginal culture. It allows the health worker to self-reflect on their approach when engaging and trying to connect with Aboriginal people and their families, in relation to addressing their medical needs and their outcome. Also, being open to try and understand family and cultural dynamics as this plays a vital role.
It’s important because a lot of non-Indigenous people and healthcare workers can have fear or uncertainty on how to even approach an Aboriginal person or their families. It could mean health professionals using a different approach to bedside manner, starting out with a quick yarn and simplifying things.
Using complicated, technical medical jargon can sometimes be perceived as overwhelming by individuals and their families and this is where things may get misunderstood. Hopefully the health workers will consider implementing a holistic approach with the provision of cultural training that’s being provided.
Representation is important and an Aboriginal person needs to be delivering that cultural education to help make health services more culturally safe for Aboriginal people to use.
A lot of what we do is advocating, liaising, educating and just supporting Aboriginal people on their recovery journey. Without us, so many of our participants would have just fallen through the gaps and not been picked up in the community setting.
This is where the community role becomes important so our patients aren’t getting around with limited support affecting their overall recovery, whether that be with speech, OT, physio or just having someone to check in and be able to assist with whatever their concerns may be.
The role provides a combination of health and emotional support to both the individuals and family.
It’s quite intimate in that way; you connect and really get to know these people. You follow them on their journey from hospital bed, to meeting family, to seeing them talking and walking around in the community. I think that’s pretty amazing.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of stories about Indigenous health.