7 June 2021

'Chat to Pat' mobile health clinic opens to vulnerable Canberrans at Veterans Park

| Dominic Giannini
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'Chat to Pat' mobile health outreach van at Veterans Park

The ‘Chat to Pat’ mobile health outreach van is now providing medical services to homeless Canberrans at Veterans Park. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Homeless Canberrans around Civic will have easier access to healthcare now that the ‘Chat to Pat’ mobile health van has extended its services to Veterans Park.

The PAT (Pathways to Assistance and Treatment) mobile clinic is basically a GP practice on wheels and provides support, including mental health and alcohol and drug services.

It is staffed by a GP, a nurse, and a drug and alcohol counsellor, and is collaboratively run by Directions Health, ACT Capital Health Network, the John James Foundation and ACT Health.

With many patients coming through the service asking nurses when they will be able to get the COVID-19 jab, the van could become a handy addition to Canberra’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

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Directions Health’s practice nurse coordinator, Ali Loom, said there is a lot of fear in vulnerable communities about their susceptibility to COVID-19.

“We are really hoping we will be able to offer COVID-19 vaccines pretty soon,” she said. “It is the main question we get asked because there is a lot of fear.

“It is such a valid question because this is the population that will not be able to access the vaccine via the normal channels.”

Ali Loom standing in front of 'Chat to Pat' mobile health van

Directions Health’s practice nurse coordinator, Ali Loom, outside the ‘Chat to Pat’ mobile health outreach van at Veterans Park. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Ms Loom said homeless and vulnerable Canberrans often struggle to get to medical clinics because of trouble travelling across the city, as well as the affordability barrier with GP appointments being too expensive for them.

A lot of vulnerable people also struggle with perceived stigma and feeling overwhelmed within mainstream services, she said.

“Working in this space you see people who have complex layers of issues who are living with chronic mental health and health conditions,” said Ms Loom.

“A lot of our clients have huge trauma backgrounds, either childhood historical trauma or ongoing adult trauma, so going through mainstream services is super challenging.”

Bronwyn Hendry standing in front of 'Chat to Pat' mobile health clinic

Bronwyn Hendry, CEO of Directions Health. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

While the clinic at Veterans Park is still establishing rapport with the local community, the mobile van can receive anywhere between 15 to 25 patients per day when it is at one of its other four ACT locations.

Directions Health CEO Bronwyn Hendry said the positive impact of non-judgemental healthcare for Canberra’s vulnerable communities should not be underestimated.

“By providing non-judgemental care in an environment that feels familiar and safe, we can support people to address their health concerns sooner, hopefully preventing any illnesses from becoming worse and requiring more acute care,” she said.

“The real driver behind us striving to secure PAT was to provide care to people in need, including Canberrans whose access to primary care is severely limited.”

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The Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy will also be providing a free barbecue breakfast and advice on harm reduction strategies outside the Veterans Park clinic each week.

ACT Health funds the service to operate three days a week and ACT Capital Health Network funds the other two.

It operates at Kanangra Court on Mondays; Illawarra Court on Tuesdays; Oaks Estate on Wednesdays; Ainslie Village on Thursdays; and Veterans Park on Fridays.

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