The value of Medicare Locals to the community has been shown in the response to the disastrous floods that swept Bundaberg .
The Wide Bay Medicare Local took a leading role in overseeing the evacuation of 105 aged care residents, ensured their continued medication, provided staff to support stricken indigenous victims and organised the relocation of general practitioners hit by the flood.
The rapidly rising floodwaters displaced about 7,500 residents and inundated 3,000 homes. Nearly 1,000 people had to be rescued by helicopter.
While local emergency services attended to the immediate and urgent health and safety needs of the community, the Wide Bay Medicare Local came to the fore to fill the primary health care needs beyond the resources of the local hospital.
Wide Bay Medicare Local CEO Shane Dawson said the establishment of the Medicare Local just seven months ago had enabled it to provide a more organised primary health care approach than would have been likely previously.
The flood response also probably helped local community leaders get a better idea of the primary health care role that Medicare Locals can provide.
Aged care emergency role
The local group’s responses included seeing to the needs of 105 residents of a flood nursing home who had to be evacuated hastily without their medication lists.
He said his team managed to track down their prescription requirements with the help of pharmacists. The residents were subsequently taken to nursing homes as far away as the Gold Coast because of the lack of adequate facilities in Bundaberg.
Dawson said that with the active involvement of local GPs, his Medicare Local kept the community informed on which local health services were still functioning and helped out where they could at local evacuation centres.
“We needed to find out which GP practices and pharmacies were still able to provide care for patients and we contacted them one by one,” Dawson said.
GPs whose rooms were innundated were supported to establish a bulk-billing service at an evacuation centre.
Reducing strain on hospital
“We wanted to ensure that residents needing non-urgent care would access local GPs and pharmacies and avoid unnecessary emergency department presentations at the local hospital.
“Access to primary health care was still widely available and we let the community know exactly which services were available using newspapers, radio and social media,” Dawson said.
The Medicare Local also coordinated a small group of GPs who assisted with providing medical checks to evacuees, giving hospital staff a much needed hand.
The Wide Bay Medicare Local’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health team also sprang into action to assess the health and wellbeing of indigenous residents at evacuation centres across town.
Indigenous Health Team Leader, Kylie McCartney, said: “We spent countless hours at evacuation centres checking on residents to see if they needed prescriptions filled or required access to health care.”
“I even visited some isolated residents by getting a ride on an Army Blackhawk helicopter, along with some Red Cross staff members.
“Our Indigenous clients were happy to see a face they knew and trusted from their Medicare Local or hear our familiar voice on the phone,” she said.
Dawson said while his organisation might only be seven months old, it had matured quickly enough to contribute to the community even during a crisis.
The Medicare Local was now looking at ways to help residents recover and match services to address their post-flood needs.
“We are deploying our community-based psychologists, who will be kept busy helping residents cope with the emotional toll of this crisis.”
Mark Metherell has previously worked as a consultant to the Australian Medicare Local Alliance.