A new stroke support centre will be established in Ballarat to help survivors of stroke regain function and return to work.
The centre, part of an $8.7 million state government investment to improve health outcomes from cardiac conditions and strokes in regional and rural areas, will house a wide range of support services and programs for survivors of all ages but with a particular focus on getting people of working age back to their jobs.
Stroke Association of Victoria chair Anita Roper knows the challenges of returning to work after a stroke only too well.
Five years ago, at the age of 55, she suffered a stroke, and her husband former Victorian treasurer Tom Roper, followed suit and had a stroke three years ago.
"We are pretty competitive, so if Anita had one, I had to have one," Mr Roper laughed.
Getting back to work after being in a coma and in hospital for three months was a goal for Mrs Roper.
"I know the impact after a stroke - the loss of confidence, the fact you feel isolated, the fact you might lose your job and wondering if you're going to get back to normal or what the new normal is," she said.
The new centre will offer support, education, wellness programs, information sessions and social activities to help hundreds of stroke survivors each year reconnect with the community.
Work readiness assessments and vocational rehabilitation services will also be on the program, alongside a dedicated return to work coordinator who will talk to employers and stroke victims about what they need to get back to the workplace.
Wendouree MP Juliana Addison said the return to work program was important because the median age of people returning to work after stroke was 52.
"They've still got a significant decade or even more of their working life left so to be able to return to the workforce is transformative for their future, not only their superannuation but wellbeing, confidence and sense of self," she said.
Ms Addison said she had two friends suffer strokes in their 30s.
"It really opened my mind. You think this is something that happens to older people, people who were unhealthy or had comorbidities but it impacts young people, healthy people, a range of people and it comes without warning," she said.
It is estimated just under 400 people a year, in all age groups, suffer strokes in Ballarat.
While it is unclear where the centre will be built, Ballarat Community Health chief executive Sean Duffy said BCH supported many stroke survivors through their individual and group exercise therapy, exercise physiologists, gym and specialised allied health support.
Mr Duffy said he welcomed the investment in regional health services and would support, engage and collaborate on the new centre.
"We know that the road to recovery from a stroke can be a long one and it's incredibly important people can get help they need to get back to work, get back on their feet and most importantly get that close to home," said Buninyong MP Michaela Settle.
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Mrs Roper said the Ballarat centre would build on work being done through the existing Geelong Stroke Support Centre which has helped an estimated 3261 stroke survivors since opening in 2017.
She said evaluation studies done with Deakin University showed a return-to-work rate of about 50 per cent among stroke survivors in general, but a 71 per cent return rate for those supported by the Stroke Association's specialist stroke centres.
Mr Roper said the centre would also support carers of stroke survivors.
"It's pretty tough for carers as well who are sometimes forgotten about," he said. "It provides a bit of relief for the carer ... and a place to find others in the same situation."
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