St Vincent’s Hospital’s Aboriginal Health Unit
St Vincent’s is a large public hospital located in Fitzroy, Melbourne. It has more than 5000 staff and 880 beds. In 2016–17 St Vincent’s treated approximately 57,000 acute inpatients; Aboriginal patient data showed 1235 inpatients, 935 emergency presentations and 2528 outpatients.3
St Vincent’s is part of the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Care Unit. Services include acute medical and surgical services, emergency care, aged care, diagnostics, rehabilitation, allied health, mental health, palliative care and residential care. It has a long history of working with its local Indigenous population and provides outreach to the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) – as discussed in another case study.
Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers (AHLOs) – St Vincent’s AHLO Program was established in 1982. AHLOs provide support to patients and their families during admission, inpatient stays, and upon discharge. They provide a culturally sensitive link between medical teams and patients. AHLOs work with and educate other staff in being culturally sensitive to Indigenous patient needs. St Vincent’s currently employs three AHLOs:
- One covers the Emergency Department, the Mental Health Unit’s Aboriginal inpatient beds, and Cardiac Services including cardiac patients in the Intensive Care Unit as well as other inpatient and outpatient units and Dialysis.
- A second covers designated general and specialist inpatient and outpatient units, Oncology, Cancer Tumour streams and Palliative Care.
- A Senior AHLO is responsible for partnerships and liaison with Aboriginal community organisations, for staff orientation, cultural engagement and staff training.
St Vincent’s established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staffed Aboriginal Health Unit
under a dedicated manager at the end of 2015. This incorporated the existing AHLO Program. Further, at St Vincent’s an Aboriginal Health Care Coordinator in the Assessment Liaison & Early Referral Team (ALERT) works with patients presenting with complex needs and assists them to manage their needs in the community by connecting them to GPs and other health services, by advocacy, and by supporting their attendance at outpatient appointments. Completing the Unit, an Aboriginal Employment Officer is responsible for the recruitment and support of Aboriginal staff at St Vincent’s.
Working with prisoners
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are imprisoned at over 10 times the rate of other Australians. Working with Indigenous people in prison is critical to improving Indigenous health at a population level. The Unit provides services to Indigenous prisoners through a special ward located in the hospital. Unit staff liaise with the Aboriginal Health Clinician at Port Phillip prison about these patients.
The Principles in Action: What Makes the Aboriginal Health Unit Work?