BALLARAT Community Health is calling on the state government to think bigger in facing a complex, increasingly overwhelmed health system by taking a closer look at the frontlines.
All 24 registered independent community health services are banding together in a Community Health First campaign to make clear what they can offer in a more holistic approach on health, including social factors, largely to keep people out of hospital care.
Most of these social factors are being hit hard under rising costs of living.
Ballarat Community Health chief executive officer Sean Duffy said the bulk of the government's allocated health resources were put into hospitals and, while hospital funding was incredibly important, the campaign was about recognising the critical work from the independent services.
The Victorian community health sector has not received any substantial funding increase in more than a decade, according to the independent community health services.
Mr Duffy said BCH had proven it could be deployed and be "rapidly agile" in response to crises such as bush fires and floods. In the pandemic, the health service has played a key support role in COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, education and in outreach to vulnerable people.
Community health services want to remind the state government they can be a valuable partner in the health crisis - but they could not act to their full effect without resources.
Mr Duffy said the multitude of health and social factors stemming from the rising cost of living were worsening every day. BCH was experiencing a rise in demand for help across all areas, including aged care, mental health and drug and alcohol.
He said the impacts could continue to be felt in coming years. For example, Ballarat would experience more people homeless, which in turn forced people to let go of other health factors such as mental health, dental health and food choice.
"There has been an enormous emphasis on the increased cost of living in terms of interest rates. Indirectly rents go up with investors wanting to recoup their losses. When rents go up, most of us can absorb the cost but there is a big chunk of the community that can't," Mr Duffy said.
"There is a direct correlation between social indicators and poor health.
"We know governments get it, but we need to get them to the table for change."
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Community health services provide a range of services including health promotion activity, chronic illness and disease prevention and treatment, mental health services, oral health, allied health, general practice and community outreach.
Community health services specialise in working with communities and people who face the greatest barriers to good health and wellbeing, such as people experiencing homelessness, people living with disability and experiences of mental ill-health, First Nations people, members of the LGBTIQA+ community, refugees and asylum seeker communities, and people who use alcohol and other drugs.
The Community Health First campaign is calling on the state government to recognise the role independent community health services play and to prevent avoidable cases in over-stretch emergency departments by implementing four key measures.
These measures include:
- increasing funding by at least 20 per cent to reflect population growth and demand on services
- recognition as a "partner of choice" for the government on primary care and community-based health projects
- prioritising sustainable investment in community health infrastructure and workforce development
- and, working with the federal government to match funding for registered community health services in the same way it is for hospital funding.
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