“It is one thing to offer a service; and it’s another thing to ensure that the service is used to achieve its purpose.
The key is successful engagement.“
From my community, it is clear that the health and life expectancy gap between our Aboriginal families and non-Aboriginal families is far too wide. We have had funerals almost every month this year and every family has been affected by the loss of a loved one. As a Director of the Aboriginal Medical Service, I know we need to do more. I also know that our staff works hard to provide the best health services that they can within the limits of health funding. Our Board is also investigating ways that we can “do more”.
The reality in my community is that our families are fractured every time we lose someone. We get a kick in the stomach. We shake our heads and we cry. Our community has not been neglected by the Government when it comes to Aboriginal Health funding. We have had funding cuts, but the issue lies with the “other” health service providers. They receive funding too and they are usually made up of non-local; non-Aboriginal people who are given this huge responsibility of improving health outcomes for Aboriginal people. This reality tells me that one very important lesson has not been learnt yet. This lesson is that Aboriginal people themselves must lead the way in closing the shameful and depressing gap that exists in every community.
Our Aboriginal Medical Services MUST be given the power and authority to tackle health issues in Aboriginal communities. All health related services that are for the benefit of Aboriginal people SHOULD be provided through our Aboriginal Medical Services. For those who do not know, Aboriginal Medical Services were born out of discrimination towards Aboriginal people who were turned away for simply being Aboriginal. Our Aboriginal Medical Service has been operating for nearly 30 years and my connection to it spans 20 years through my mother who started out as an Aboriginal Health Worker and now leads the service as the Chief Executive Officer.
It is crucial that all health practitioners and other staff delivering health services to Aboriginal people identify and understand their clients. It is equally crucial that decision-makers understand the role that cultural learning plays in successful engagement. It is one thing to offer a service; and it’s another thing to ensure that the service is used to achieve its purpose. The key is successful engagement.
* Jolleen is a current Director of Mawarnkarra Health Service Limited, located in Roebourne in Western Australia.