Program navigates better health care treatments and outcomes
ANGELS do exist and it turns out they are helping First Nations people and patients right here in Bundaberg.
Moore Park Beach resident Gary Cameron faced the high possibility of mobility loss and having his leg amputated below the knee after complications from diabetes caused an infection.
What started out as a diabetic ulcer on his toe became an infected wound; a result that may have changed Gary's life forever, with concerns that the amputation would mean the heavy machine operator would never return to work or live life as he once knew it.
"I had a hole all the way to the bone in the toe, but it had healed over time until January this year, when there were concerns about what may have been in the wound," Mr Cameron said.
"The last thing I wanted to do was give up work, but it's hard to drive an excavator with one foot (but) I didn't know what options were out there - I would come in (for regular wound clinic appointments), do what I needed to do and get out."
But months later, Gary is transitioning back to work, visiting Bundaberg Hospital once a month and spending time with his grandchildren without a worry, with the help of his nurse navigator Coralie Wheeler.
"Coralie has helped me with all sorts of stuff, not only at Bundaberg Hospital but also sorting out access to my super, NDIS paperwork, attending appointments with my GP, getting orthotics and specialist shoes and accessing outside podiatrist appointments," Mr Cameron said.
"I did end up having two of my toes amputated, but it's a milestone getting back to work and it's a relief how it has ended up … if I hadn't done this, I could have lost a lot more than two toes."
Based at Bundaberg Hospital, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurse navigator assisted Gary by providing support and collaborating with clinicians to create a care plan that best reflected Gary's long-term goals.
Rather than focusing solely on clinical outcomes, this ensured health providers could offer more appropriate treatment options for Gary.
With more than 35 years experience and specialising across many nursing areas, Ms Wheeler has assisted indigenous patients in Bundaberg and the Doomadgee community with chronic disease.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people just need someone they can trust, who knows their health story and supports them through their health journey," Ms Wheeler said.
"They need someone who won't give up on them and can provide links between their often many health providers - our nurse navigator role can do that.
"In this role, I have been working very closely with Integrated Wellness Centre (IWC) medical clinic staff, working together to achieve patient goals."
Local Taribelang Bunda Elder Uncle Raymond Broome referred to nurse navigators as "angels of mercy" as they were breaking down barriers in health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
"A nice hello and a friendly chat makes all the difference to me and to a lot of other people because we are a stubborn lot … to get that encouragement is a big thing," he said.
"Having Coralie visit my home was amazing (because) it picked me up a big bit and I could ask questions - she breaks it down for me (and) what Coralie is doing is wonderful.
"A lot of us don't want to find out what's wrong, especially the older people - I had a lot of relations like that (and) there was not a lot of trust (in hospitals and doctors), but I think a lot of that is changing."
The program has been operating across the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service (WBHHS) since 2017, expanding from five to 24 nurse navigators and now includes a variety of new specialist care portfolios including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
WBHHS chief executive Debbie Carroll said the partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and community representatives identifies a need for Bundaberg navigators to work with First Nations people.
"They act as a central point of communication for the patient, reducing fragmentation between different areas and helping the patient understand different aspects of their care," Ms Carroll said.
"Nurse navigators help their clients to develop a care plan that addresses their overall wellbeing needs and circumstances, while collaborating with other clinicians and support services from both within and outside WBHHS.
"By doing this, they can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers to achieve their health goals, return to a better quality of life and contribute to Closing the Gap."