A word with… Darriea Turley AM
Manager Community Engagement, Far West Local Health District, and Mayor of Broken Hill
Darriea Turley manages a network of local Health Councils in NSW’ Far West Local Health District that provides a structure for consumers and community members to participate in health service planning and delivery.
How does Far West Local Health District (LHD) involve health consumers?
The LHD involves health consumers in many ways and right across the board. We have six Health Councils, in Menindee, Broken Hill, Ivanhoe, Tibooburra, Two Rivers and Balranald. Having the great insight of local knowledge and experience is critical in how we plan and deliver better health.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a different ball game. The health of all our consumers is our number one priority. We’ve had to put everything on hold and meet by teleconference to help us understand what the pandemic would mean for people when they enter the health service. I’ve been collecting responses through an online link and we’ve also been sending out information by email and involving our consumers with virtual art galleries and puzzles – things to keep them connected when they couldn’t come in.
What influence have health consumers had?
It’s hard for clinicians and program managers to understand the needs of health consumers. But they can shed light on local conditions in some surprising ways.
For example, one of our remote towns relied on flying doctors to deliver medical services. If necessary, they would evacuate to Broken Hill or Adelaide. But there was a problem – the fence was down at the airstrip. That might not sound too bad, but the Health Council meetings repeatedly passed motions that death was imminent – because kangaroos could get onto the field – and sent the motion to Crown Land who are responsible for the airstrip. In the end, the government acted and the fence was repaired.
Another rural town had really struggled with dental for their young kids and was among the worst in Australia. The Health Council really pushed for many years, but they weren’t getting support because it was a small town and people weren’t listening to their concerns. They were consistent and refined their messaging around the need for fluoridation in this community. It took years, but in the end, the Public Health Act was changed to support local government to get the money to fluoridate the water.
These are things that clinicians and health staff wouldn’t necessarily think about, but a consumer will understand how health is affected.
What are the best ways to engage health consumers?
The most important thing is to listen to your consumers. Health workers constantly move to different roles and positions and towns, but the consumers tend to be in their town and are very passionate. They have the best local expertise and experience.
It’s also essential to be honest. Don’t give them misleading information. Be really clear about what can be achieved and manage expectations. Recognise that some people have consumer fatigue; they are not just on your consumer group, they may also be on five other groups for their community.
Make sure you have money for consumer education and to pay for the little things – a packet of biscuits and any travel – to make it easy to be a health consumer representative.
How do you combine your role in the Local Health District with being
Mayor of Broken Hill?
I am flexible and I draw a line between the roles and the different hats I wear. Actually, being Mayor gives me better insight for when I meet with health.
Both roles involve listening to the community. It’s taught me the importance of not missing the future because you are stuck in the past.
NSW Far West Local Health District: www.fwlhd.health.nsw.gov.au