A medical team from Cabrini Health banded together to perform life-saving brain surgery on a single mother from Papua New Guinea.
In March 2018, the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub [in Australia] experienced a surge in demand with a 100 per cent increase in the number of referrals for the month.
A higher than average number of referrals were also received in April and May.
Most of these referrals are for asylum seekers receiving basic support through the status resolution support services (SRSS) program while awaiting the outcome of their application for protection.
The reason for the increase? Changes to the SRSS program vulnerability criteria have been announced, which will result in withdrawal of the basic living allowance (89 per cent of Newstart), casework support, and trauma and torture counselling from anyone assessed as ‘job-ready’. Being job-ready is not the same as being able to find employment.
Many Australians are looking for work. When English is not your first language, you have had little or interrupted education, you have no employment history and only temporary work rights, you have serious barriers to employment success. Add to that the significant physical and mental health issues many asylum seekers suffer, and employment is unlikely.
How will they will pay their rent and feed themselves if they have no income?
We stand for compassionate treatment for asylum seekers.
Australia is known as the lucky country. Yet this has not been so for asylum seekers, as Australia maintains one of the most restrictive immigration detention systems in the world.
Successive federal governments have progressively tightened our immigration policies in an effort to make Australia an unattractive destination for people seeking asylum. The current government is proud that it has “stopped the boats” through its boat turn-back policy. Its attention has now turned to withdrawing or limiting support for people who arrive by aeroplane on a legal visa and later claim asylum, as well as asylum seekers currently living in the community while their refugee claim is being processed.
In late August of the this year, the Federal Government announced the cessation of financial and housing support for a group of asylum seekers who had been transferred from offshore detention in Nauru to Australia for medical reasons. We saw the immediate detrimental impact of the announcement on clients receiving care and services at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub in Melbourne’s northern suburb of Brunswick. This prompted us to release our first public statement calling for a more compassionate response to the plight of these people which is available at www.cabrini.com.au/news-and-events/new-blogcategory-2/cabrini-s-stand-on-compassionate-support-for-asylum-seekers/
The move prompted Sister Sharon Casey MSC and Sister Beatriz Santos MSC to request that we respond in a practical way: they asked us to make two vacant apartments in the building in which they live available to house asylum seekers. A subsequent call to the Brigidine Sisters Asylum Seeker Project www.basp.org.au resulted in a family moving into the first apartment within a week. Jiko from Somalia has four children under the age of six and is pregnant with her fifth. The family had spent four weeks in emergency accommodation, sharing just one room. The two bed-room apartment is a vast improvement and better meets their needs.
Our second group – three single women – will move into the other vacant apartment on Monday 16 October. They are currently sharing a house near the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project office. Their move will free up the house for an asylum seeker family in a location where it is easier for the Brigidine workers to provide support.
“We hope our accommodation will assist the women to better transition to living independently in the community when their refugee status is finally determined,” said Executive Director of Mission and Charitable Services Cath Garner.
“We are grateful we have this opportunity to demonstrate to these few people that we genuinely care about their plight and stand in solidarity with them, despite the harshness of our Federal Government’s policies.
“We draw strength from Mother Cabrini’s spirit and vision, particularly in this centenary year.”
Sue Grasby RN, a nurse manager at Cabrini Malvern, has been awarded Catholic Health Australia’s (CHA) annual Nurse of the Year Award for 2017.
According to Professor Lee Boyd, Cabrini’s Executive Director of Nursing and the Cabrini Institute, Ms Grasby is a strong patient advocate. “I am thrilled that a Cabrini nurse has been awarded CHA Nurse of the Year,” said Professor Boyd. “She represents all nurses at Cabrini who work so hard every day to provide exceptional care.”
The award recognises Ms Grabsy’s volunteer contributions to healthcare services in Papua New Guinea (PNG). “She and her husband lead No Roads Health expeditions, which focus on providing healthcare for villages in PNG with no road access,” said Professor Boyd. “This commitment is undertaken during her annual leave and at considerable personal expense.”
The award includes a cash prize of $5000 for use in supporting a program or for professional development and a trophy.
Ms Grasby says she is committed to improving the health of the PNG people and engaging in health promotion to prevent illness in remote areas.
The road to PNG
Ms Grasby’s involvement with providing health outreach services in PNG was sparked when she trekked the Kokoda Track with family and friends in 2010. Over eight days, the group passed through many small villages and interacted with local people. The experience provided an understanding of the isolation along the track and lack of access to basic health care and medical treatment.
“I felt the need to respond to the chronic lack of health care that is being suffered by our close neighbours and which we take for granted in our country,” she said. “This experience affirmed my desire to give back and try to make a difference to these people who live in remote villages and lack so much in both access and availability of healthcare.”
In 2014, Ms Grasby began volunteering with No Roads Health. Together with a team of nurses, she returned to PNG to provide healthcare to those most in need. The team travelled by foot, car and boat to six remote coastal villages where many of the people they met had never seen a healthcare worker before let alone a nurse from Australia.
Since then, she has returned to PNG twice a year with No Roads Health, and now works as the clinical leader of the teams who volunteer their time and self-fund their trips. Small teams of health professionals, mainly nurses, support health needs within these remote communities, helping people maintain good health, and relieving health problems where possible. “During my most recent trip in March 2017, more than 640 patients attended our six clinics,” she said.
A trusted presence
During her health outreach trips to PNG, Ms Grasby seeks to support and mentor local PNG health care workers and village health assistants who visit remote villages with the team.
“Our clinics see many children with ear conditions related to life near the ocean, tropical leg ulcers compounded by heat and humidity, and many illnesses and disease processes that can be fatal in these remote areas but would be resolved with a simple visit to a GP in Australia,” said Ms Grasby.
Some villagers will often walk or canoe long distances, up to eight hours, to visit the clinics and the team visits elderly or dying people in their homes if they cannot attend.
Ms Grasby’s work includes extensive assessments for PNG children who have congenital or acquired disabilities, injuries and illnesses, for consideration of corrective surgery in conjunction with Children First Foundation (CFF).
“I am dedicated to improving the health and welfare of these people, all the while learning more about the new ailments that are prolific in these regions, many of which are unseen in Australia,” she said. “This cause has become a personal passion of mine and one which I am sharing with others at Cabrini with the primary focus of being to improve healthcare outcomes for those in the remotest areas of PNG.”
On Wednesday 26 April, the Hon Martin Foley MP, Minister for Mental Health, launched a new specialist mental health service being introduced at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub in Brunswick.
Other special guests at the event included:
- Hon Jane Garrett MP, State Member for Brunswick
- Paris Aristotle AM, 2017 Victorian Australian of the Year and CEO of Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
- Samantha Ratnam, Deputy Mayor of Moreland
- Richard Rogers, Chair of the Cabrini Health Board
- Professor Suresh Sundram, Advisor to the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub
A new aspect of care and services at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub, the new specialist mental health service will provide a wrap-around service including case-management and community outreach.
“Our vision is to meet the significant and growing need in the community for extremely vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who may fall through the gaps or are unable to access to mainstream services,” said Cath Garner, Cabrini’s Executive Director of Mission and Strategy.
Dr Tram Nguyen has been appointed Director of the Specialist Mental Health Service and Cabrini is currently working to recruit a mental health nurse and social worker to the team.
The specialist mental health service was launched 12 months almost to the day since the opening of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub by then-Mayor of Moreland Cr Samantha Ratnam.
The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub is providing a much needed service in Melbourne’s inner north filling the gap in healthcare faced by asylum seekers and refugees when they arrive in Australia without income or access to Medicare. Since June 2016, Cabrini has provided medical care to 140 asylum seekers and refugees who have come to Australia from countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub is a member of a number of asylum seeker and refugee health and settlement networks, both in the region and statewide. The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub may be contacted on ph (03) 8388 7874.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a mere 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Australia’s northern-most tip yet the difference in healthcare between the two countries is immense.
Many Papua New Guineans have diseases that go untreated because they live in remote, almost inaccessible villages high in rainforest-wrapped mountains. However, in the past two years, Cabrini Health nurses have pushed into these villages to give the only first-world healthcare assessments that these people have ever had – and to do so they flew, trekked, paddled and climbed to reach their patients.
There are approximately 400 doctors in PNG’s 462,340 square kilometres (approximately 178,510 square miles). Only 51 of them tend to the more than 90 percent of the population who live outside Port Moresby. Most people living in the highlands have never seen a doctor and many rarely see a healthcare worker. So in April 2016, Cabrini nurses Sue Grasby, Anne Marie Robinson, Bianca Di Sciascio and Monica Wallace left Australia for PNG with two other Melbourne nurses, each prepared to do whatever it took to improve the health outlook for those they visited. They travelled with No Roads to Health, an adventure travel company that arranges trips to remote regions for healthcare workers. The adventure is secondary to the purpose of nursing.
Once in Port Moresby, they boarded a light plane to Popondetta in the north, where they collected supplies and headed for the coastal village of Buna. Buna sits at the northern entrance to the Kokoda Track and is the place at which Japanese soldiers disembarked for the protracted battle that forged an Australian legend. After a two-hour trip in the back of a truck that became bogged in mud, the nurses arrived safely at the village. This was day 44 of torrential rain for the area, rain, which continued unabated throughout their stay. Here they spent two nights in a traditional guesthouse and operated health clinics each day.
Local people trekked into in Buna from remote villages for health checks and treatment, but there had been no medical supplies delivered to the area for more than three months so distressingly, these nurses, used to modern Australian hospitals with everything at their fingertips, could only provide health assessment, professional advice and treat them with Panadol and Indomethacin, a medication used to treat pain and inflammation.
From Buna via Popondetta and a short plane trip, the next stop was Tufi, a remote town set in pristine rainforest. Topographically spectacular, this region is characterized by lofty mountains and dramatic fjords, but there was little time to admire the scenery. In five days, the group conducted eight clinics, seeing 378 people in total. This area was well provisioned with medical supplies and they had the assistance of a local health worker who rowed his canoe almost three hours each way daily to provide healthcare – mostly unpaid. He, like many of PNG’s health workers, taught our nurses as much as they taught him.
“We treated people with painful backs, knees and necks caused by their hard lifestyle; we diagnosed tropical diseases like malaria, yaws, grille, and tended febrile children, giving penicillin where necessary,” said Ms. Robinson.
During the trip, the nurses took photos for orthopaedic surgeons: two of children with club feet for possible medical evacuation, and one of a child whose fractured leg was repaired by a Cabrini surgeon who wanted a progress report.
On the final day, a man brought them his four-year old grandson. They diagnosed nephrotic syndrome, a condition of the kidneys, and arranged for him to be hospitalized. Knowing that the man was poor and far from home, the group pooled money towards the cost of clothes, food and accommodation so that he could remain with his grandson.
Cabrini’s nurses found the Papua New Guineans to be warm, generous and grateful, smiling broadly despite deprivation and pain. This, and the unstinting hospitality they encountered, made up for the steep, treacherously slippery tracks, the bugs, spiders, lack of electricity and running water and the relentless rain. Some have already booked a return trip. “It was a wonderful way of continuing the missionary vision of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Italian Sister who founded the congregation that owns and sponsors Cabrini in Australia, by providing care to those who cannot afford it,” says Monica “To give hope that will transform people’s lives – and to do it with Cabrini’s values of compassion, integrity, courage and respect”.
The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub, which was opened officially in May this year, is providing a much needed service in Melbourne filling the gap in healthcare faced by asylum seekers and refugees when they arrive in Australia without income or access to Medicare.
Since June, Cabrini Health has provided medical care to asylum seekers attending the Hub. They come from countries far and wide including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia. Tracey Cabrié, Centre Manager says that the Hub provides a weekly GP clinic and a weekly psychiatry clinic and that clients undergo nursing assessments on the other days.
“We were able to employ quite quickly, within a month we had two nurses and an admin assistant,” says Tracey. “While getting the core team together, we’ve been promoting our service to GP networks, referring agencies and the broader asylum seeker and refugee sector.”
The hub’s medical clinics are provided by a pro bono workforce who is passionate about working with asylum seekers. So far, three psychiatrists and eight GPs have been accredited to work at the hub, with another five who are interested and currently going through the credentialing process.
The hub operates on a nurse-led model of care for assessment, triaging and case management. When clients are referred to the hub, the nurse triages them and prioritizes their health needs, works closely with the GP with respect to the care required and facilitates referrals to other community health services such as dental or obstetric care.
Bernadette Flanagan, Practice Nurse, joined the team at the beginning of June and is passionate about the nurse-led model.
“First, we undertake a refugee health assessment, and we find out as much about their current and past medical history as we can,” says Bernadette. “Our patients may have been in camps or detention and many do not have medical paperwork from their past. We get an idea of where they have come from, their current health needs and what is important initially for them. After they are assessed by a nurse, they are seen by a GP to manage a priority list of their health needs.”
Cabrini is supporting asylum seekers seeking Australia’s protection. At the moment, clients come via referral from caseworkers or agencies that are working with asylum seekers. The priority of access is no Medicare card and no income. We expect more clients to come once word about the hub spreads in the asylum seeker community. “We’ve established a pharmaceutical program with Brunswick Pharmacy, which enables clients with no income to access medications at no cost to them. Clients are provided with pharmacy waivers and Cabrini is invoiced for the cost,” said Tracey.
Cabrini Australia marked World Refugee Day on Monday 20 June in a most tangible way: the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub received its first client, a Medicare-ineligible asylum seeker from the Middle East. He was seen by Professor Suresh Sundram, who has begun weekly psychiatry clinics at the health hub.
Centre Manager Tracey Cabrie, who has been onboard almost two months, is pleased with progress underway at the new Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub. “Credentialling of general practitioners, psychiatrists and psychiatry registrars is underway and we are receiving a great deal of interest from other healthcare professionals who want to volunteer their services, for example endocrinologists, nurses, physiotherapists and other allied health professionals,” she said. “Many referral agencies have been in touch and we have patients ready to access our services. We are currently working to finalise our roster of clinicians, as well as the policies, procedures and systems necessary to make the hub operational.”
The small team at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub now includes two nurses Louise Wilson and Bernadette Flanagan who work part-time, Administration Assistant Santina McLean and Project Officer Nicole Whatley employed by St Vincent’s Hospital, one of our partners in the Hub, to support the establishment of the GP services.
For more information about the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub, visit http://www.cabrini.com.au/news-and-events/new-blogcategory-2/new-cabrini-asylumseeker-and-refugee-health-hub-opened/
Cabrini Health has announced the development of an asylum seeker and refugee health hub, a much needed service in Melbourne’s inner-north. The new service, will provide healthcare services for asylum seekers and refugees.
“Cabrini is committed to making a difference to the disadvantage faced by asylum seekers and refugees,” says Dr. Michael Walsh, Chief Executive of Cabrini. “We believe that working collaboratively is the most effective way to address disadvantage and will lead to the best health outcomes for the people we want to serve.”
[The state of] Victoria has one of the highest asylum seeker and refugee settlement numbers in Australia. Many asylum seekers in our community have neither work rights nor access to government benefits such as Medicare, Centrelink, housing or emergency relief.
“Our approach is based on strong partnerships with public and private hospitals, community health agencies, asylum seeker/refugee services and others who want to make a difference to the plight of asylum seekers and refugees,” said Dr Walsh. “We are grateful to the many agencies who have supported the concept and look forward to others joining with us over time to enhance our capacity.”
Initial services will begin by the end of May 2016 with GP clinics and specialist mental health services to be offered first. Chronic disease management, maternal and child health and infectious disease management, as well as social, emotional and spiritual support services, will follow.
“Clustering these services in one location will enhance access and facilitate a person-centred, integrated approach to primary and specialist care for this vulnerable group,” said Dr. Walsh.
The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub will complement health services offered by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne’s west and Monash Health in the southern suburbs. Medicare-ineligible asylum seekers will be given priority access to our services, at no cost.
At the recent Provincial Assembly of the Missionary Sisters one session focused on the way in which Cabrinian ministries are addressing the pressing issues of immigration, migration, refugees, asylum seekers and human trafficking.
This week, we continue our series of in-depth looks at individual Cabrinian ministries and we explore how they are responding to the needs of those who are experiencing upheaval in their lives due to war, poverty, violence or captivity.
Cabrini Health, Australia
Baptcare/Cabrini Houses of Hope Pilot Program
Baptcare has been providing transitional housing to asylum seekers and refugees through their Sanctuary program since 2008. Sanctuary has capacity for 76 asylum seekers across two facilities in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. As well as tenancy support, residents have access to caseworkers and pastoral services aimed at improving their well-being, independence and social participation. This pilot program will end in July 2016.
Jesuit Social Services/Cabrini Asylum Seeker Solidarity Project
This is a joint initiative between Jesuit Social Services and Cabrini, which was initiated in December 2013 with the goal of changing the hearts and minds of the Catholic community towards asylum seekers and refugees. This has ultimately resulted in the formation of the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), a steering group comprising representatives from Catholic peak bodies, universities and other relevant organizations that have liaison with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Cabrini Health provided a grant to fund the establishment and sustainability of CAPSA and a project officer to facilitate the development of joint statements, regular communications and messaging.
Mental Health Screening Tool for Asylum Seekers
This has been a three-year project to develop and evaluate a tool to screen for and triage mental illness in asylum seekers. The project goals were that the tool is short, sensitive to the asylum seekers’ mental health issues, and able to be administered by a non-professional staff member at the first interaction with asylum seekers. The tool is in the final stage of validation. Cabrini has fully funded the project.
CatholicCare Asylum Seeker Support Program
CatholicCare’s Asylum Seeker Support Program supports vulnerable individuals and families released from onshore detention centers into community detention and other individuals and families who are living in the community on bridging visas and who have virtually no support. Cabrini Health provided a grant for this program which partners with parishes.