This has led to the Federal Government allocating $300,000 to the North Coast Primary Health Network to start developing a special care model for Aboriginal mental health.
Chief executive Dr Vahid Saberi said it followed a wide-ranging survey identifying significant gaps in social and emotional wellbeing services for Aboriginal communities.
“Late last year we surveyed about 5,000 people, community members and clinicians; as far as we know it’s the largest such survey in the region,” Dr Saberi said.
“Through that process, we identified the key gaps in the system.
“The number one and two issues for the community are mental health, and drug and alcohol [use].
“So, we are going to inject about $5 million into the North Coast Primary Health Network region, which is from Tweed Heads to Port Macquarie.”
Drugs and mental health not only issues
Dr Saberi said drugs and mental health were not the only issues affecting the Indigenous community.
“I think what we need to remember in regard to mental health is it has a significant impact on people’s physical health,” he said.
“People who have mental illness often die because of their physical illness.
“They don’t access physical health services so they suffer a lot [and] they also put quite a bit of pressure on the system.”
Dr Saberi said substance abuse, including use of the drug ‘ice’, was a growing problem.
“About $1.3 million will be directed toward addressing substance misuse but Aboriginal chronic disease is also a major focus, so we will be injecting about $1.5 million into that area,” he said.
“It includes cardiac, diabetes and renal services.”
Culturally appropriate services required
Dr Saberi said culturally appropriate medical services had a big role to play in improving Indigenous health and wellbeing.
“It’s critical that we strengthen our Aboriginal medical services,” he said.
“A significant proportion of Aboriginal people — 70 per cent or so — access Aboriginal medical services.
“They are comfortable there, the services are appropriate, they see clinicians that understand their circumstances and their health issues.
“It is quite important that we put the funding where the people, the population, prefer.”
Collaborating to reduce impact on hospitals
The $300,000 Federal grant will let Coffs Harbour’s Galambila Aboriginal Health Service work in partnership with Port Macquarie’s Werin Aboriginal Medical Service.
Galambila chief executive Kristine Garrett said their new program would include a tailored care model for Coffs Harbour and the Hastings-Macleay region.
She said it would also improve cultural competence for health professionals working with the Aboriginal community.
“I do think there’s a lack of competencies within the service sector and the demand is great,” Ms Garrett said.
“For Gulambila, 600 Aboriginal people within Coffs Harbour alone are diagnosed with a mental health illness [but] at Galambila, we’ve only got 1.5 staff that have to cater for that large demand.”
She said they had been working with Partners In Recovery, which includes a number of mainstream organisations such as Mission Australia.
“We’re looking at better integrated services for our mob to have a better journey through mental health service delivery,” she said.
“Working with the Werin Aboriginal Medical Service, our ultimate aim is to really reduce the impacts on our hospitals.”
This piece was first seen on ‘ABC News’ on Feburary 1, 2017.