Introduction by Croakey: The odds of a snap lockdown in South East Queensland ending as scheduled this weekend appear to be lengthening, with the state recording 17 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday.
Queensland’s Delta-driven COVID-19 outbreak now stands at 33 cases, its most significant number since the pandemic’s first wave last year.
Mirroring COVID-19 success stories in community control seen across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, member organisations of South East Queensland’s Institute for Urban Indigenous Health have been instrumental in keeping their communities safe, writes CEO Adrian Carson, in this piece for Croakey.
Adrian Carson writes:
This week a story was told to me about one of our senior clinicians who was hanging out in the waiting area at our COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Caboolture. A group of (socially distanced) Elders were yarning while they waited the mandatory 15 minutes after getting their COVID jab to be allowed on their way.
One Aunty observed how well looked after she has felt by her Aboriginal Medical Service throughout COVID.
Another said how great it was to have had our staff deliver meals to her doorstep during lockdown last year, so she didn’t have to risk going to the shops while there was COVID in her community.
One other still related that she was feeling hesitant to use telehealth for her appointments, but having the clinic staff spend the time with her to learn how to use the app on her phone was very much appreciated.
Our GP sat happily eavesdropping, reminded of why Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are so important to our people living in urban areas – providing a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access wrap-around care to ensure the health of our communities.
Empowered and prepared
The value of Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations lies not only in our ability to provide culturally safe and accessible care for our community, but also in our way of working. We are able, by our very nature, to move and change direction quickly when needed, and this pandemic has been the perfect example of that.
When Brisbane’s fourth lockdown this year was announced on Saturday morning, rather than a flurry of frantic phone calls among our leadership team a calm message was quickly shared to all IUIH staff and staff across our member network that we were moving to Level 2 of our Pandemic Plan.
It’s a day we knew was coming, and we were prepared.
Moving to Level 2 of this plan during lockdown means that those leading our strategic and operational pandemic response meet much more regularly. Both our CEO Forum, comprised of CEOs of each of our member network organisations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane, Kalwun Development Corporation, Kambu Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Health and Yulu Burri Ba Aboriginal Corporation for Community Health) and our COVID-19 Network Working Group, comprising clinicians and administrative leads from across our member network have already met this week.
Our Pandemic Plan details the changes we need to make to our service delivery to keep our staff and clients safe. At Level 2 we implement changes such as restricting movement for staff and clients as much as possible, providing extra support for our staff who are considered COVID-vulnerable, and moving our community engagement work to telephone-based interaction.
Our Deadly Choices program officers, who normally deliver face to face health education programs in schools, have been redeployed to work as clinic concierges – providing guidance for community members who might present with respiratory symptoms.
We are also sharing important health messages and updates out to community right across Queensland using our social media channels. We currently have almost 100,000 followers on our Deadly Choices Facebook account and during the May to June period last year, our Facebook reach was an extraordinary 600,000 – showing that community members do actively seek information from a source they know and trust when they are feeling uncertain.
Locally responsive, internationally acclaimed
This week in response to lockdown we are running online fitness, cooking and kids’ activity workshops. Our ability to quickly move in-person community health promotion activities to an online format was recognised earlier this year with a World Health Organization World No Tobacco Day Award.
We are also using this time to promote the importance of COVID vaccination, with a host of Deadly Choices Ambassadors such as Rugby League legends Steve Renouf and Petero Civoniceva and community members such as Uncle Les Collins and Aunty Mary Graham sharing why they ‘Stepped Up’ for the COVID 19 vaccine.
The ability to provide vaccination through all our clinics has been hugely important as well.
Our community need to know that it is safe and being delivered in a space where they are comfortable to ask questions and receive the information and support they need. This is a key reason we quickly established four respiratory clinics for COVID testing specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people last year, providing a safe place for people to be properly assessed if they are unwell, not just tested.
We have no doubt that making the vaccines available via community controlled health services will play a key role in achieving maximum vaccine take up among our population.
All this work is underpinned by our Ways Statement – a positioning statement that all our staff work under that frames our operational approach which is embedded in Aboriginal terms of reference, knowledge and values.
With 79 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in urban areas the availability and accessibility of community-controlled health services at a time like this is even more critical: services that are run by mob for mob.
It is in the capital cities where most of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now live, and it is here where COVID outbreaks and risks to our mob have been the greatest. South East Queensland alone is home to 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – which is 40 percent and 11 percent of the entire Queensland and Australian Indigenous populations respectively.
Targeting the right messages and ramping up support in areas where the majority of our people live – such as in South East Queensland – is absolutely critical in stressful times like these – where things can be uncertain for many of our community.
The latest data shows a marked difference in this pandemic from 2009’s H1N1 pandemic. Back then, Indigenous people had 3.5 times the notifications and 12 times the hospitalisations compared to non-Indigenous people.
Now, the situation is completely different, with COVID cases for Indigenous people 5 times LESS than non-Indigenous people despite their higher underlying risks.
Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 14 cases of COVID affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland – representing 0.7 percent cases in total.
With our mob making up four percent of the population we have no doubt community-controlled organisations getting information and services out to our community has played a significant role in the current statistics.
Adrian Carson is CEO of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, which leads the planning, development and delivery of comprehensive primary health care services to the Indigenous population of South East Queensland
About the IUIH
IUIH was established in July 2009 by four South East Queensland Community Controlled Health Services (CCHS) as a strategic response to the significant growth and geographic dispersal of Indigenous people within the South East Queensland region – where 40% of Queensland’s Indigenous population and 11% of the national Indigenous population live.
The IUIH Network has grown to support over 35,000 Indigenous clients each year through an integrated and comprehensive range of health and social services. This is delivered through its service footprint of 20 clinics operated by the following IUIH Network Members:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane Ltd (ATSICHS Brisbane)
- Kalwun Development Corporation Ltd
- Kambu Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Health
- Yulu Burri Ba Aboriginal Corporation for Community Health, and
- Moreton Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (Moreton ATSICHS) as operated by IUIH.
See Croakey’s archive of stories on community control.
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