The information on this page is for community stakeholders who are interested in what the ACT Government is doing to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and community-led services in the ACT during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACT Health Directorate – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Partnerships
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Partnerships is a team of majority identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff with some non-Indigenous members, that maintain relationships with key stakeholders in the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. They provide advice and support for the ACT Government, ACT Health Directorate, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Mental Health strategic policy issues.
They work closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB), United Ngunnawal Elected Committee (UNEC), and community organisations Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (Winnunga Nimmityjah) and Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation (Gugan Gulwan) and make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a voice in policy.
Since COVID-19 they have been working to ensure critical health services continue and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health matters are considered in national and jurisdictional responses.
Some key activities include:
- Working with Winnunga Nimmityjah and Gugan Gulwan to ensure continuation of services and guarantee that funding and resources necessary to continue operating are made available during the public health emergency.
- Acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) on the organisation’s behalf. This has now been delivered and dispersed to community members for use.
- Assistance with government protocols to access resources.
- Sitting on national committees to discuss inter-jurisdictional matters with other States and Territories on matters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, as well as escalate matters to the Commonwealth through relevant reporting mechanisms.
- Escalating the subject of racism in the health system.
- Proposing the expansion of the COVID-19 priority testing guidelines to include all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Querying current practice around asking the identification question: “Are you or your family members of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent?”.
- Ensure the continuation of health, social, emotional and economic wellbeing support is considered in policy development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who test positive, who are required to undertake mandatory quarantine and self-isolation.
- Working in collaboration with other ACT Government Directorates and the Health Emergency Coordination Centre on all COVID-19 related matters.
Canberra Health Services - Mental Health, Justice Health and Alcohol and Drug Services (MHJHADS)
COVID-19 planning for MHJHADS is based on three key principles:
- To maintain their services as close to business as usual for as long as possible
- To ensure there is a clear plan to maintain the most essential services
- To ensure that their workforce is informed, supported and safe throughout the pandemic
Unfortunately, due to social distancing requirements MHJHADS have had to place many of their program groups on hold. All clients accessing program groups have been contacted and provided with options for ongoing support.
Justice Health Aboriginal Liaison Officer (ALO) Team Service Delivery
The Justice Health ALO Team are available to provide support on Monday, Wednesday and a half day Friday at Alexander Machonochie Centre (AMC), Bimberi Youth Centre (Bimberi) and Dhulwa Mental Health Unit (Dhulwa).
The ALO will be attending AMC to work collaboratively with the Indigenous Liaison Officer (ILO) team to participate in the Yarning Circle program whilst it is still currently in operation, whilst adhering to all social distancing safety measures. The ALO will participate in weekly virtual meetings where discussion, advocacy and consultation may be required with regard to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees.
Justice Health Services have risk assessed all detainees and collated a list of high-risk clients. The list includes:
- clients who are aged 60+ years;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients who are 50+ years with co-morbidities;
- clients who have co-morbidities; or
- are immunosuppressed.
Co-morbidities can include; hypertension, cardiovascular disease, renal dysfunction, diabetes and or pregnancy. Justice Health Services are working with ACT Corrective Services in relation to signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and information on appropriate PPE to use when interacting with symptomatic clients.
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (Winnunga Nimmityjah)
Winnunga Nimmityjah run clinical and social health services, however due to high demand, have stopped taking on new client memberships and have triaged priority to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during this period. This includes mental health and trauma services.
Winnunga Nimmityjah are now a testing site for COVID-19 and Health Partnerships is working closely with Winnunga Nimmityjah to identify and provide additional supports to ensure continuation of services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans.
Winnunga continues to provide culturally appropriate health, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing support to detainees and a vital link to the Community. This initiative is funded by ACT Health Directorate.
Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation (Gugan Gulwan)
Gugan Gulwan provide community support programs, which have been greatly impacted by social distancing requirements and gathering number limitations. ACT Health Directorate is working with the organisation to support alternative delivery and facilitation of programs for the community.
Gugan Gulwan continue their modified operations at the centre and continue daily wellbeing checks on clients and families in these challenging times. This includes providing opportunities and support to clients that focus on activities that can be achieved at home; such as addressing maintenance/repairs, providing cleaning supplies, and facilitating family planning activities.
Gugan Gulwan have been very proactive with updating their business continuity action plan for community members to access the service to support children, youth and families in need of health information, educational activity packs, food and transport supplies.
Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm (NBHF)
The NBHF Team are compiling information on services and support available under each domain of the Living Web (Health, Aged Care, Housing, Education, Justice, Cultural and Social-Emotional Wellbeing, Employment and Youth) and translating it into culturally appropriate language for distribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT/Queanbeyan and surrounding regions.
The NBHF has sourced a small number of hand hygiene kits and have distributed these to Winnunga Nimmityjah for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders and other high-risk patients.
Current and past NBHF clients are being contacted on a weekly basis by NBHF Community Liaison workers, either directly or via their nominated support person. The purpose of these outreach calls is to provide a general wellbeing check and to assist clients with making links to other services and online tools.
Development of a virtual NBHF Program in lieu of the standard NBHF Day Program is underway. The virtual program will cover a range of topics and online discussions such as: Alcohol and Other Drugs Prevention Education; Supporting Connection to Culture; Promoting Healthy Attitudes, Values and Behaviours; Life Skills and Pre-Employment Development; Setting and Working Towards Personal Goals; Indigenous Horticultural, Agricultural and Environmental Knowledge Systems.
The NBHF is still accepting referrals with assessments carried out by phone or videoconferencing.