High country communities in East Gippsland now have better access to preventative health support, advice and resources through their local Bush Nursing Centre. After several difficult years of drought and bushfires, each centre is working to identify early risk factors amongst farmers and their families, and local nurses are using their expertise to provide tailored support to their communities.
The Bush Nursing in East Gippsland pilot, launched in mid-2021, engaged six bush-nursing centres (BNCs) to deliver screening and health checks and provide referrals to specialists, as required, for geographically harder to reach farmers and their families in the high-country of Gippsland who may have lower levels of engagement with health care providers. The project also provides mental health support and can make referrals for farmers who may still be struggling after the drought and then the bushfires in 2019-20.
Bush nursing centres in Buchan, Cann Valley, Dargo, Ensay, Gelantipy District and Swifts Creek all received funding to deliver additional health services,while continuing to provide primary health, community, clinical, emergency, home-based and referral services to increase the health and wellbeing support for farmers, farming families and rural communities in these remote locations.
Sue Carroll has been the nurse at Swifts Creek for 24 years and in the few short months since the pilot started is seeing positive health outcomes for farmers, such as early detection and removal of a squamous cell carcinoma and commencing appropriate medication to control blood pressure.
Using a place-based model of delivery, led by highly valued members of the community BNCs are making a significant difference to these hard-to-reach communities. “Farmers are actually asking, how long is this pilot going for, and when will you be back to do my next assessment? They're certainly very positive about it,” said Sue.
BNCs are small health centres that provide rural and remote communities access to health and nursing services and are part of a range of rural and regional health services providing diverse care across Victoria. These services include public health services and hospitals, Aboriginal health services, community health services, bush nursing centres and bush nursing hospitals. Across Victoria there are five rural health regions with 70 rural and regional public health services and hospitals, six bush nursing hospitals and 15 bush nursing centres.
The East Gippsland pilot is being delivered by the Victorian Department of Health and funded by Agriculture Victoria to keep farmers, workers and farm families safe and well. It is part of the Smarter, Safer Farms program, a $20 million Victorian Government commitment to improve safety and skills outcomes for Victorian farmers.