COVID-19 response – Advocate Update: July 13, 2020

I want to again express my support for Melburnians and the communities of Mitchell Shire as they experience the reinstatement of stage 3 restrictions. It is a reminder to communities in Latrobe that alongside other regional areas in Victoria, we are extremely fortunate to have avoided this.

Let’s ensure we don’t take that good fortune for granted. We need to respect the risks that the virus poses and maintain good hand hygiene and physical distancing and be mindful that an outbreak is possible anywhere, including Latrobe.

In my most recent report to the Health Minister and Chief Health Officer I welcomed the approach of the Victorian Government to make the distinction between Metropolitan Melbourne and Regional Victoria. I encouraged government departments to develop a targeted communications strategy that ensures that Latrobe communities have clarity around existing restrictions.

I am grateful for people taking the time to share with me their experiences and their insights. Your willingness to share your very personal experiences has enabled me to provide a detailed and compelling report on a regular basis.

What am I hearing.

The recent return to restrictions in the Melbourne Metropolitan area has implications for professionals including doctors, nurses and pharmacists who travel to regional Victoria to support local communities. Concerns have been expressed that suitable alternate arrangements have not been made to ensure ongoing access to medications and continuity of patient care.

Some local workplaces have identified the need to introduce “a day in the office”. Teams still need to connect in these times of working from home. Respecting the physical distancing and hygiene rules but having regard for the long-term impacts of isolation on people working from home, the introduction of just one day has shown to be valuable in maintaining good mental wellbeing for their staff and relationships amongst colleagues. There is a need for people to connect to enable good working practices.

People are acknowledging the volume of work and the responsibility of leadership during the COVID- 19 response. People are also talking about the importance of democracy and transparency of government so that people are well informed. There is a clear understanding that “it is a big responsibility looking after the welfare of the State” and generally people are willing to do their part in ensuring the virus doesn’t again take hold.

The reporting of the pandemic is impacting on people’s mental health however there is a perspective that “We have nothing to complain about really”.

A community member who was unexpectedly required to relocate to Morwell during COVID-19 is feeling the effects of isolation and loneliness to a greater extent. People’s circumstances are all different and considering these unique experiences as part of local solutions can support people to have a better outcome.

Innovations I am seeing.

Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing delivered an interactive Q&A radio session on ABC Gippsland. This approach enabled local communities to seek clarity about the recent restrictions in Melbourne and how they relate to regional Victoria.

Gippsland Primary Health Network has been working closely with Latrobe Regional Hospital to coordinate COVID-19 services. The new respiratory clinic in Morwell is being well utilised and is open on Saturdays. Having clear role clarity and creating joint opportunities for media and public messaging has been an important part of this collaboration.

Latrobe City Council has established a COVID-19 helpline and is taking a pro-active approach, reaching out to people in Latrobe communities who may be more vulnerable at this time. Local libraries are open and provide a place for people to access technology and online resources.

COVID-19 has created an environment for change within health services. Latrobe Regional Hospital, Gippsland PHN and DHHS have all talked about the importance of using data to reflect on how well telehealth and other services have been utilised by communities with consideration for who has engaged or accessed a service and importantly, who has not and why.

Central West Gippsland Primary Care Partnership has been sharing regular updates about how health and social services are being delivered and ways for communities to access the supports they need. These updates provide a useful snapshot of how services have changed their delivery models in response to COVID-19.

I am sharing what I am hearing.

I am continuing to share my insights and suggestions with the Victorian Minister for Health and the Chief Health Officer and in my most recent update I have highlighted my interest in the following;

• The Victorian Government has made a clear distinction between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria based on current COVID-19 data. This welcomed approach requires even greater targeting of communications and customisation of public messaging and engagement methods. How can DHHS ensure that regional communities have clarity on current restrictions? How might DHHS partner with others to boost regional communications in an effort to prevent apathy in relation to hygiene and social distancing measures?

• Health clinicians including General Practitioners and Pharmacists are being discouraged from leaving Melbourne for the next six weeks. What are the likely implications of this and what can be done to ensure that regional communities can still access their doctor and medicines?

I’m here to listen and to help our health system and governments to understand and respond to the needs of communities in Latrobe. The continued generosity of people in sharing their stories with me has given me the opportunity to provide advice that reflects what is happening across Victoria

Please continue to share your suggestions and experiences with me by contacting me on 1800 319 255, email or follow us on Facebook @LHAdvocate and Twitter. For more information you can go to our website

As always, be kind, be patient and stay safe