CEO Primary Matters – 16 December 2020

So here we are. The end of 2020. Time for many to use the Christmas and New Year break to reset, refresh and pull together all of our learnings from the year to make 2021 not only a ‘better’ year, but a healthier one.

Our 2020 Highlights

With all of its challenges, 2020 provided the primary health sector with a platform to improve its processes, reprioritise and remind the public how crucial it is as the frontline in improving our community’s health. Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) is proud to have advocated for extended telehealth Medicare-subsidies, launched multiple mental health services across the region, provided personal protective equipment (PPE) and improved our health intelligence to better understand our health care provider and community needs.

I wanted to take the time to share some highlights with you all.

Protecting our Primary Health Care Workforce

As of Monday 14 December, WVPHN has distributed:

  • 590,000 surgical masks
  • 24,500 P2s/N95s
  • 30,000 gowns
  • 12,200 goggles

Though WVPHN is not the primary source of PPE for primary care providers, we were glad to have been able to assist our health care frontline in whatever ways we could to deal and adapt to the impact of COVID-19.

A Mind for Mental Health

2020 will be remembered for a long overdue focus on mental health and wellbeing. WVPHN partnered with the five other Victorian PHNs and the Federal Government to set up the HeadtoHelp service, with two hubs located in western Victoria – one at Barwon Health North in Geelong and the other at Ballarat Community Health in Sebastopol.

We also formed the Geelong Place Based Suicide Prevention Initiative: a group of health sector, government and community leaders from across the Geelong area have been brought together to tackle the region’s incidence of suicide. The establishment of the Leadership Steering Group will drive the initiative by bringing together local leaders, to maximise the collective efforts towards positive outcomes for the community.

Prior to the Geelong initiative, WVPHN launched two of its biggest project to date: the Ballarat and Great South Coast Place Based Suicide Prevention Trials. Many families across these areas are struggling to understand why their loved ones have taken their own lives. From teenagers to adults and both male and female, the suicide rate in Ballarat and across the Great South Coast is unacceptably high. We want to ensure that every single person who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide or has attempted suicide has support networks available to help them when and where they need it.

The Way Back Support Service for Great South Coast is also something we are very proud to have launched. Without a national program to address the service gap for people living through the critical three month period following a suicide attempt or crisis, we are delighted to be commissioning this program with our partners for the Great South Coast to foster connection and tailored support networks that help those most in need find a way back to good health. To be able to guide someone through this deeply distressing phase of their lives and help them find their feet again is incredibly important.

Improving our Health Intelligence

Identifying such needs in our community is only possible with a strong health intelligence program to inform programs and processes. In 2020, WVPHN’s Health Intelligence team has:

  • Changed focus to improved data governance building confidence in the data being used for decision making
  • Adopted the PHN Exchange – hot spotting health and wellness indicators at an LGA level and providing live PIP-QI benchmarking reports to general practices (freely available via the link)
  • Implemented an online data request procedure inline with best practice data governance

Additionally, the WVPHN Research Committee has made significant progress to welcomes opportunities to collaborate on research projects relevant to primary health care in the western Victoria region and consistent with our priorities. This includes the implementation of the Research Opportunity Request process to complement our ongoing support of multiple research activities in partnership with universities and hospitals – from supporting distribution of research surveys, to participating as an investigator in projects regarding COVID-19 response and impact.

Our Staff

Many of you as our valued stakeholders would have had the pleasure of working directly with WVPHN’s wonderful staff. From transitioning to working from home many kilometres apart (yet somehow growing closer) and having many important programs and projects impacted by the pandemic, to graciously welcoming me in as CEO in such a challenging period, I could not be prouder of this team.

Despite the personal challenges many have faced, the one motivator that remained for all staff right throughout was to deliver on the work we promised to communities. Our communities are who we work for and improving their health is what drives us . We hope 2021 provides even more opportunity to achieve this.

I would also like to extend my gratitude and admiration to my predecessor Dr Leanne Beagley for her incredible leadership at the commencement of the pandemic and to Tony Ficca, who was Acting CEO during this tricky transition period.

WVPHN Christmas Closure

I wish to remind you all that WVPHN will close for the Christmas and New Year break from 12 noon on Thursday 24 December and will recommence operations on Monday 4 January 2021.

Please be aware that due to courier schedules and WVPHN’s process of handling requests, any requests for masks made after the 17 December 2020 cannot be processed until we recommence operations.

Stay safe and rest. I am excited for 2021 and what we can achieve together.


Rowena Clift

Chief Executive Officer

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