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Monday, 10 February 2014 09:28

Care at the heart of new health outreach initiative

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Cabrini Health has ventured into new territory – in more ways than one – with the establishment of new pro bono health outreach to remote Aboriginal communities on Cape York Peninsula.

In the new project, Cabrini partners with Cape York Hospital and Health Service, part of Queensland Health, to provide their echocardiography service. It is a new approach for Cabrini as it is directly involved in provision of the service.

Aboriginal people in the remote communities on Cape York have a high burden of rheumatic heart disease and need regular echocardiograms to screen them for disease, assess their cardiac status and monitor their health.

Despite the high workload, Cape York Hospital and Health Service was unable to recruit a cardiac sonographer to perform these studies. Cabrini was approached to help.

“We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Cape York Hospital and Health Service, Queensland Health, to provide the service,” said Cath Garner, Cabrini’s executive director, mission and strategy.

“Our cardiac technologists travel to Cape York up to two times each month to perform the echocardiograms and our cardiologists report on the studies.

“Our staff value the opportunity to provide this vital service and the high rate of abnormal studies – approximately 80 per cent – demonstrates the high need for the service.”

Cabrini’s echocardiography health outreach service involves providing a qualified and experienced cardiac sonographer one to two weeks per month to travel to the remote communities and provides service for both adults and children. A makeshift procedure room is set up in whatever local facility is provided.

Approximately 10 studies are performed each day depending on community need. More than 170 echocardiograms have been performed and reported on by Cabrini cardiologists since the program began.

Cathy Wilkie is one of three Cabrini staff members, along with Josh Sher and Chrissy Page, who travel to far north Queensland each month to deliver the echocardiography service to remote Aboriginal communities.

She has visited several different communities since she first travelled there in March 2013 and has been touched by patients’ stories and culture along the way.

“I’ve collected so many photos and works of art to remember this experience, I feel honoured to be doing this outreach work for Cabrini,” she said. “We are giving these communities hope and reassurance. If Cabrini were not providing this service, patients would have to fly to Cairns for investigations.”

Cabrini works in partnership with a medical team of doctors and nurses from Queensland Health and Cape York Health Service to provide the service at remote health clinics.

Queensland Health’s Dr James Brown, part of the Cape York medical team, says the echocardiography service is vital to these communities.

“Cabrini’s support allows us to provide better care to these patients; many are struggling with rheumatic heart disease and need regular monitoring and treatment,” he said.

Many of the communities Cabrini visits – Aurukun, Kowenyamah, Mapoon, Napranum and Pompurraw, just to name a few – can only be accessed by light planes. This adds to the challenge of providing a reliable health service, but Ms Wilkie isn’t fazed.

“I once had to climb in through the roof of the plane it was so small,” she said.

“The medical teams I work with are amazing. The health centres feel like a community hub for people. There is a lot of trust and respect and it’s a very positive environment.

“Everyone in the team does their little bit and together we are making a difference.”

About Cabrini’s outreach work
• Cabrini’s new health outreach initiative with Cape York Hospital and Health Service is designed to help close the health gap between Aboriginal people and other Australians.
• The initiative responds to the “cry of the poor and excluded”, which is part of the Cabrini Sisters’ Missionary Vision document from 2008.
• Cabrini has invested $250,000 more in Aboriginal health and wellbeing than in 2011-12, reflecting its increased commitment to this area of social outreach.
• Cabrini is active with Aboriginal communities in Queensland, Northern Territory and Victoria.

Read more about the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Cabrini Sisters).

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Health Matters magazine, the quarterly publication of Catholic Health Australia.