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Supporting farmers in remote Gippsland, Victoria
The Victorian Government announced funding for a Bush Nursing Pilot project this June. We catch up with Sarah Carr from Dargo Bush Nursing Centre to find out how the project is being implemented and why it's so important.
“Our centre is probably one of the most remote in Victoria,” said Sarah Carr, Nursing Manager, who oversees a team of three other RANs at the Department of Health funded centre.
“Our nurses all live in the Briagolong area, near Stratford, near Sale. It takes about an hour to get to work. There’s a house linked to the centre. You can stay up here; it’s almost like a mini-FIFO.
“We’re trained as Remote Area Nurses. We respond by pager to any emergencies that happen in the Dargo area. We are the first responders. It’s about an hour’s wait for an ambulance by road and about 45 minutes for an emergency flight.
“In one shift, you could get an emergency call-out for an ambulance and be treating pneumothorax and decompressing the chest,” Sarah continues. “You can then come back to the centre and be doing the admin, then in walks wound care. Then you might have a lady wanting a prenatal assessment, then a palliative care patient, then you’ve got a meeting. When you come back there’s a kid with gastro or a mental health patient.”
The centre has over 230 patients on its books and covers a wide geographical area. Due to resourcing, it has often only had one nurse rostered on per shift, making it a challenge for nurses to reach the outlying community.
“For a home visit to, say, Crooked River, it can take one and a half hours just to get there – making for a four to five hour round trip,” Sarah said. “You can’t close a centre for that long.”
At the same time, farmers in outer Dargo have demonstrated low levels of engagement with health care providers. The distance presents an obstacle, particularly when considered in light of the stress caused by drought, bushfire and COVID-19.
In early June, Victorian Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas announced $350,000 for the ‘Bush Nursing pilot project’, an initiative that aims to equip farming communities with the information, tools and resources to improve health outcomes and build resilience. The funds come out of the state government’s $20-million Smarter, Safer Farms initiative.
The pilot focuses on supporting farmers who are geographically harder to reach, with funding going to six Bush Nursing Centres in Gippsland including the Dargo Bush Nursing Centre, plus similar centres in Ensay, Gelantipy, Swifts Creek, Buchan and Cann Valley.
“The great news is that with the funding we have been able to employ a nurse to work one day a week alongside another nurse. That nurse will primarily run the project one day a week.”
“For a long time we have done screening and health promotion… but we have usually had to focus on people coming to the centre to do that.”
“Now, instead of having to close the centre to do home visits, and leave the centre unmanned, we’re going to have another nurse here to do the home visits. It’s a great resource to have!”
In July, Sarah explained that there had been a “really positive” initial community response.
She went on to say that the Dargo centre planned to approach 30 to 40 farmers who haven’t accessed healthcare in the last 12 to 24 months.
Many of the candidates are to be within the vulnerable 65+ age group and male, because historically men have engaged less with healthcare than women in Dargo.
“We’ll be doing home visits on the road, making a time that’s convenient for participants. If it’s hay season or it’s busy on the farm, we’ll work in with what they’re doing.”
“We’ll initially ask how they’re going and what’s been happening. And we will do a lot of health screening during visits. We’ll be
looking at standard things like blood pressure, weight/height, and glucose levels; but also bowel screening with testing-at-home kits and cholesterol checks using a point-of-care cholesterol checking machine we are going to purchase.”
“Basically it will be an all-systems check. And if anything is flagged, we’ll be part of the referral process as well. We’ll help organise GP specialist appointments, write letters, follow up with health professionals and liaise on behalf of the patient.”
“We are hoping that if the pilot project is successful, we could look at getting additional funding through the next few years – which would be absolutely amazing.”
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