COVID-19 response – Advocate Update: April 8, 2020

COVID-19 is a significant health issue impacting Latrobe communities and people across the world. It is now a priority for my office and as we move through these extraordinary times, I will provide updates for you via my website and social media. My aim is to keep you informed about my work and provide a place where you can share your concerns and aspirations for your health and wellbeing.

I am continuing to engage with people in Latrobe and have committed to providing regular updates to the Victorian Minister for Health and the Victorian Chief Health Officer about how COVID-19 is impacting Latrobe communities.

As the Latrobe Health Advocate, I am here to listen and to help our health system and governments to understand and respond to the needs of local communities.

What am I hearing.

In recent weeks I have been hearing directly from community members, government representatives, executives and Board members from a range of services including Latrobe Regional Hospital, Maryvale Private Hospital, Latrobe Community Health Service and the Latrobe Health Assembly.

I am learning that there is a common concern for people who may already have been experiencing disadvantage or social isolation. There is a risk that many people may become further disconnected from their society and support services. It is likely that COVID-19 will expose more people to financial stress, mental illness, social isolation, food insecurity, homelessness or violence. These concerns are being addressed in a number of ways both at a local and more general level.

Among the services put in place is the expansion of Telehealth Services, enabling people to contact their doctor, seek and obtain emotional support from psychologists and other allied services via telephone and video conferencing. These services are covered by Medicare and are in the main bulk billed. This additional access to services can go some way to supporting people through this difficult time.

The economic actions taken by Federal and State governments to assist people to stay in jobs or to ensure they have some financial stability during this time have started to take effect and it is expected that people will feel the benefit of those measures soon.

I have also heard that people are increasingly relying on local buses and public transport to access food and essential services. There is concern that local transport needs may not be considered when governments are determining how these services are sustained. It is important that any changes to public transport timetables are decided at a local level and take into account the needs of regional communities.

Generally, services and workplaces want to protect the wellbeing of their staff. They know the COVID-19 response will require a sustained effort and are working to ensure that their responses can be maintained over a long period. Good communication is a priority and I will support organisations wherever I can to spread their messages to people in Latrobe.

Unfortunately, some people in Latrobe are not hearing, understanding or responding to COVID-19 messages. Behaviours are not changing and as a consequence more lives are being put at risk.

The messages are very clear: If you can stay home, you must stay home. Further advice on the restrictions Victorians should be following are available here:

Innovations I am seeing.

COVID-19 has already forced our health system and governments to think and work differently. There is an obvious commitment from governments and health services to respond and act quickly. I am seeing significant changes to our health system that in ordinary circumstances would take a long time to happen.

General practices in Latrobe are working together as a network of services and are now accessible to communities via phone and telehealth.

The Victorian Government has committed to enabling greater collaboration between public and private health services. This is an opportunity for Latrobe Regional Hospital and Maryvale Private Hospital to strengthen how they work together.

I am sharing what I am hearing.

As I continue to hear from people in Latrobe, I will share insights and suggestions with the Victorian Minister for Health and the Chief Health Officer. In my most recent update I have highlighted my interest in the following;

• What support and guidance can governments provide that will support community service organisations to quickly change the way they work so that they can continue to support people who need them most?

• What is being done and can be done to help people cope with the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and to prevent longer term mental health issues within the community?

• What can we do to provide targeted communications that will ensure that everyone in Latrobe is receiving the information they need to help them change their behaviours and protect themselves and others from COVID-19?

My office can be contacted via phone, email or social media and I welcome the opportunity to hear from anyone in Latrobe who wants to share their ideas and experiences with me.