So we find ourselves at the end of another year, and what an eventful year it has been for the primary health care sector. With the Christmas and New Year break upon us, I wish you all a joyous festive season. For many of us, this is a period to reflect on the year that was, but also a time to rest, replenish and reset so that we can continue to strive for a healthier western Victoria in 2022.
Highlights of 2021
With the COVID-19 pandemic prevailing as the dominant health and social issue of the year, 2021 continued to generate immense challenges for primary health care. However, this year has also demonstrated the tremendous capability of the sector and the integral part it plays in driving better health outcomes for our region.
2021 paved the way for improved processes, new initiatives, and transformational potential. Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) is proud to have met the many challenges of COVID-19 this year, while also working tirelessly across the primary care spectrum to address chronic and acute manifestations of mental and physical ill-health.
I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of our 2021 highlights with you all.
WVPHN continued to provide guidance and support to general practices and other health care providers who worked on the front line throughout this challenging year.
Across many teams, WVPHN staff have worked diligently to ensure the right information and directives reached our primary care providers and communities at the right time. This included a robust communications plan to ensure WVPHN was a central source of information, as well as the continuation of the weekly Project ECHO COVID-19 sessions for primary health professionals.
A key achievement of WVPHN’s COVID-19 response has been the vaccine rollout across our region.
January saw the launch of WVPHN’s vaccine rollout strategy, with responsibilities including the coordination of vaccine distribution in primary health care and supporting clinics engaged in vaccine administration.
WVPHN’s role in the vaccine rollout extended to a successful program of in-reach vaccination clinics in private residential aged care facilities (RACFs). By the end of June, all first and second dose in-reach visits were provided to the 62 private RACFs in western Victoria.
As of this week, every local government area in western Victoria can boast a double dose COVID-19 vaccination rate of more than 95% for residents aged 15 and over.
I extend my sincere gratitude and admiration to all primary healthcare providers, health services and community members for reaching this extraordinary milestone.
A focus on mental health
The final report of The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System tabled in March, thrust mental health to the forefront of the headlines. The report highlighted both the failures of our state’s mental health system and recommendations for improvement.
With a growing need for mental health services in our region, WVPHN was pleased to develop and deliver a diverse range of mental health services in 2021 to support the mental health of our community.
A combined effort by Victorian PHNs in 2020 saw the establishment of HeadtoHelp, a new statewide support service continued into 2021 for people experiencing emotional or mental health distress due to the impacts of COVID-19. A HeadtoHelp phone support service and 15 HeadtoHelp hubs were established across Victoria last year, with two in western Victoria – Ballarat and Geelong. Throughout a challenging 2021, the HeadtoHelp initiative has continued to support the mental health of many people across our region.
2021 also laid the groundwork for the establishment of Victoria’s first Commonwealth-funded adult mental health centre. Operating under the name of Head to Health, the new centre will be located in Geelong’s northern suburbs and provide a central point for adults and their families to access mental health information, support and services.
There was also a focus on youth mental health this year, as WVPHN welcomed the establishment of the headspace Ocean Grove satellite service in August. In addition, I was delighted to receive the announcements of dedicated Commonwealth funding to deliver new headspace services in Colac and Corio in 2022.
The Social Connections program is another initiative we a proud to have continued into 2021, with dedicated Commonwealth funding to support older Australians. Operating across the Ballarat Goldfields, Wimmera Grampians and Geelong Otway regions, the Older Australians Initiative offers clinical assessments with mental health nurses and combats loneliness by supporting consumers to reconnect to community.
Finally, the Commonwealth funded Geelong Suicide Prevention Initiative (GSPI) was a significant focus of WVPHN’s mental health response in 2021, as we continued to tackle the region’s incidence of suicide. As part of the GSPI, the Geelong Leadership Steering Group continued its meetings throughout 2021, developing a framework that will guide a more integrated system of care in the Geelong region. The work of the steering group has also contributed to and informed the Joint Regional Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan which WVPHN looks forward to delivering and implementing next year.
Reconciliation Action Plan
As part of our commitment to restoring health equity for First Nations People living in western Victoria, in 2021, WVPHN developed a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Developed in consultation with Elders and Respected Persons from across our region, we focused on hearing their stories and gathering information about their experiences. This information has been consolidated and will provide future directions for WVPHN and our primary health care providers.
WVPHN aims to be accountable for real actions towards reconciliation. Using our position to influence the broader primary health care system, we will advocate for and nurture high quality and culturally safe services for First Nations people.
I am pleased to announce that WVPHN’s RAP has now been approved by Reconciliation Australia. I look forward to implementing the RAP in 2022 and striving to close the gap in western Victoria.
The final highlight of 2021 is the dedication, passion and resilience of our brilliant WVPHN staff who have worked tirelessly to achieve all of the above. The agility and commitment our team throughout what has been another turbulent year is nothing short of extraordinary.
I extend another warm welcome to Dr Bernard Shiu who joined our Board in 2021. I also extend my sincere thanks to our Chair, Lynne McLennan, and WVPHN Board members who provide the important foundations and governance to deliver our strategic priorities.
I look forward to tackling the challenges ahead with this incredible team as we strive for excellence in primary health care and a visionary 2022.
WVPHN Office Closure
I wish to remind you all that WVPHN will close for the festive break from 12 noon on Friday 24 December and will reopen on 4 January 2022.
Stay safe and see you next year.
Chief Executive Officer