New funding to support our older Australians recovering from COVID-19 isolation

Media Release

The mental health and wellbeing of older Australians in the Ballarat Goldfields and Wimmera Grampians regions has been prioritised with new Commonwealth funding to increase social connection and mental health support for older Australians.

In response to the impacts of the lengthy physical distancing laws enforced due to the pandemic, $314,000 has been allocated by Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) to Ballarat Community Health and Grampians Community Health to work together to deliver this care across the two regions.

This Older Australians Initiative aims to increase social connection for older people living in the community or in residential aged care facilities and provide mental health nurse services and care coordination support to socially isolated older people who may be at risk of mental illness. ‘Older Australians’ are defined as people over 65 years of age and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55 years of age.

WVPHN CEO Rowena Clift said: “For many older Australians, the love and support of family and friends in a social environment is what has been disrupted for far too long this year, especially for those living in aged care facilities. Our aged care workforce has worked tirelessly to maintain the wellbeing of residents during this time.

“However, while many of us have been able to stay connected from a distance using social media and telehealth, many older Australians have faced even greater isolation from loved ones, which we know is detrimental to mental health and wellbeing. As physical distancing laws continue to ease and aged care facilities begin to allow more access, WVPHN wants to accelerate this return to what is familiar for our older citizens.”

Ballarat Community Health and Grampians Community Health will deliver a model of care that includes the employment of two mental health nurses and a mental health support worker, with services to be provided close to where clients live with both organisations having clinics and services available in a range of towns across the two regions.

The two mental health nurses will offer clinical assessments focusing on physical and mental health, including any dual diagnosis and support the consumer to reconnect to community. The mental health support worker will provide additional support at Grampians Community Health.

Ballarat Community Health Alcohol and Other Drugs Manager Suzanne Powell said: “Ballarat Community Health welcomes the opportunity to work across the catchment of WVPHN to promote social connection for older Australians. Everyone has their own story of the impacts of COVID-19 but we all share the fundamental need for connection and this is especially true for older people who have been separated from family and their friends and have experienced disruption in their usual routine. For many older people their world has become smaller during COVID-19 and has significantly impacted on their mental health and wellbeing.”

Grampians Community Health General Manager Business Support and Innovation Kate Astbury said: “Grampians Community Health will provide a local service with a strong focus on care coordination and increasing social connection for these older Australians through assessing and assisting to manage their mental and physical health needs. Grampians Community Health is grateful to have the opportunity to partner with Ballarat Community Health to promote social connection for older Australians. COVID-19 has affected many people in our communities and this is especially true for older people who have been separated from their family and friends. We will deliver a coordinated service approach to increase social interaction of the target group and provide referrals to other appropriate services.”

A broad reach of health promoting messages and invitations to older Australians to participate in social connection activities is also a major element of the model.

This initiative will be integrated with the two health services’ Social Connections Partnership Grants work, which was announced in early November to help ensure no one in the community feels alone by developing partnerships and services between health services and community groups.