Outreach teams collaborating with local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have been a step in the right direction for positive chronic health outcomes.
Sally Sunits, director and podiatrist from Darwin Podiatry, is one of those outreach providers delivering outreach podiatry across the NT since 2016.
Operating from Darwin, her services now encompass 3 of its 5 remote regions: Darwin, East Arnhem, and the Big Rivers region. Her efforts address the escalating need for foot care, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who form the majority demographic in these remote regions.
Among the communities she works with is the 500-strong town of Warruwi on South Goulburn Island. Here, the reality of chronic conditions among locals, particularly diabetes and its foot-related complications, calls for more specialised and collaborative care.
The Red Lily Health Board manages Warruwi Community Health Centre on the island. They have a strong focus on diabetes management among a range of other healthcare services. The local team comprise of remote area nurses, an Aboriginal health practitioner, receptionist and drivers who assist outreach health professionals like Sally during their outreach visits.
432 (2021 census)
Mawng, Kunbarlang, Kunwinjku, Djambarrpuyngu and Galpu
Warruwi Community Health Centre
Outreach services rely heavily on the local health centre team to support their visits.
At Warruwi, Emma has been looking after reception for the past year. She loves working at the health centre telling us “The locals enjoy my local face behind the reception. Me, Gavin, and Alan are the locals to advise the team on who is here and who isn’t. I am multicultural which is a good thing for the job as I understand the language even though I don’t talk it much.”
Tim, the acting health centre manager, emphasises the importance of regular visits from familiar practitioners for continuity of care, particularly in podiatry.
“Darwin Podiatry is one of our regular visiting services,” says Tim. “It allows them to build client and staff relationships, which is important for positive outcomes.”
On her visits, the local staff prepares a list of priority patients, enabling Sally to attend to high-risk clients promptly and more comprehensively, beyond routine foot checks.
“This collaboration allows me to address more serious wounds during my visits, as opposed to generic foot checks,” she mentions.
The collaborative model ensures better patient care and reduces the need for costly trips to Darwin for specialised care.
Roy is an example of multi-disciplinary team collaboration in action. A sea ranger, he had developed a foot wound that eventually became infected.
The wound was managed through a collaboration between outreach podiatrist Sally, local clinic nurse Lynda, Luke the Aboriginal Health Practitioner and the district medical officer. This collaboration kept Roy on country in Warruwi and prevented a trip to the high-risk foot clinic at Royal Darwin Hospital.