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Close the Gap 2020

Headshot of woman outdoors
SydneyConnect Image: Alexis Joseph

Improving the health and wellbeing of Sydney Local Health District’s Aboriginal community is a top priority for chief executive Dr Teresa Anderson AM who’s striving to close the health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

Today is National Close the Gap Day – which marks an Indigenous-led advocacy campaign that aims to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality by 2030.

“Our vision is to have the healthiest Aboriginal community in Australia in our District,” Dr Anderson said.

“We have one of the biggest urban Aboriginal populations in NSW. We recognise members of our Aboriginal community have greater health challenges and needs than non-Aboriginal Australians.

“And, there’s a significant health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. There is lots to do, but we are working towards a healthier future for our Aboriginal communities,” she said.

The District’s Indigenous staff – like Aboriginal Liaison Officer Alexis Joseph – play a critical role in achieving that vision.

Alexis coordinates the care of Indigenous patients, who are often from regional New South Wales, when they are treated at Canterbury or Concord hospitals.

“We advocate for them. If there are problems we deal with them. We speak to doctors. We also include the family in what’s going on making it a safer environment for all involved.

“They’re happy to stay and have treatment because they know there’s familiar faces around and support if they need it.

“For me, it’s satisfaction to see that their health is where it should be and I’m able to support them in what they need,” Alexis said.

The District is committed to supporting and growing its Aboriginal workforce, which is currently about 2.1 percent of the total workforce.

That’s 220 staff across areas including medical, nursing, allied health, oral health, support and corporate services.

The latest NSW Public Sector Aboriginal Employment Strategy sets a target to increase the representation of Aboriginal employees to 3 per cent across all non-executive salary bands.

And, for Indigenous employees to fill a minimum of 114 NSW public sector leadership roles.

The Federal Government’s Closing the Gap 2020 Report was tabled in Parliament last month.

The annual progress report found that the gap in child mortality rates had widened between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children since 2008.

The report also showed that the gap in life expectancy had not narrowed. An improvement in Indigenous mortality rates from circulatory disease has coincided with an increase in cancer mortality rates.

“We’re committed to addressing the health gap through the Sydney Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Health Partnership in collaboration with the Aboriginal Medical Service Redfern and local Aboriginal communities,” Ricky Lyons, the District’s Deputy Director of Aboriginal Health, said.

Ongoing strategies are in place to address the key health priorities:

  • Early years, children and young people
  • Chronic disease management and aged care
  • Mental Health
  • Drug Health
  • Infectious Diseases and Sexual Health
  • Oral Health
  • Health Promotion

The District has implemented a staff training program “Respecting the Difference” to ensure a culturally appropriate approach is taken when addressing Aboriginal health needs.

The District is working towards delivering accessible, culturally-appropriate, holistic health services to its Indigenous communities.

“For example, we work to identify Aboriginal women who will be using our hospitals to plan their care. Our New Directions Yana Muru program offers antenatal care and paediatric support for local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families,” Mr Lyons said.

The District runs Aboriginal health clinics – specialising in Paediatrics, Geriatrics and Endocrinology – in partnership with AMS Redfern.

RPA’s Drug Health service also facilitates a Koori women’s support group and the Mental Health team holds regular clinics and support groups for Aboriginal families.

“Our District is committed to Aboriginal health and doing what it can to ensure a better, healthier future for our communities,” Mr Lyons said.