This innovative health project – a national first - involved La Trobe University working in partnership with Rural Northwest Health, (RNH) and communities in Warracknabeal, Beulah and Hopetoun.
Reflecting the partnership, Professor Jane Farmer and John Aitken, a Warracknabeal community member, received the prestigious Victorian Health Association Health Services Members Award for the Improving Community Health through Participation project.
Internationally acclaimed rural health researcher at La Trobe University, Professor Jane Farmer says the aim of the project was to get local people involved in identifying their health and wellbeing priorities, using evidence and uniting community members with local health services providers, Rural Northwest Health, to devise key actions residents and services could progress.
'Speaking with around 650 people from all different backgrounds, in workshops, 'chat' sessions and visual mapping of issues and ideas, it was clear; mental wellbeing,intergenerational health and better access to services for older people were biggest community concerns.
'With RNH staff and La Trobe Rural Health School researchers all part of the conversation, cost-effective solutions and direct action quickly occurred. Importantly, this involved local people leading initiatives. This is about local people linking with those running their health system.
Benefits have included greater health literacy for local people, stronger relationships and understanding between healthcare staff, the community and a more seamless relationship between the service and citizens, rather than 'them and us'. Professor Farmer said.
The project has already seen:
- Major mental health and aged care forums held, distributing information and referral options
- The establishment of community gardens supporting intergenerational socialisation
- Plans for age friendly gym equipment to be set up in community spaces to promote exercise for older people and those with a disability
Rural Northwest Health CEO Catherine Morely says these community priorities are now part of RNH Strategic Management planning and will be ongoing.
'This project shows how effective the combination of community working with researchers and health providers can be. The concrete outcomes that have flowed on for residents are low cost, improved participation and knowledge in community health and moving beyond a traditional approach to healthcare.
'Properly engaging the community like this is something we would like to see rolled out across the country.'
Media contact: Catherine Garrett 9479 6565/0418 964 325