21 September 2021

UPDATED: More organisations - including Lifeline - to receive mental health funding boost

| Lottie Twyford and Genevieve Jacobs
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Carrie Leeson

Lifeline ACT CEO Carrie Leeson said the additional funds would go directly to the crisis support service. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 5:00 pm: The ACT Government has confirmed that Lifeline ACT will receive an additional $70,000 in funding as part of the ACT’s announced mental health and community health care support package.

The full list of funding recipients is as follows: a $1 million expansion to the Police, Ambulance and Clinician Emergency Response (PACER) program, $200,000 to provide more services and additional support for people affected by eating disorders through Canberra Health Services – Eating Disorders Clinical Hub, and $5000 to Eating Disorders Families Australia (ACT).

Funding of $90,000 will go to CatholicCare/Marymead, $80,000 will be split between Gugan Gulwan and Yeddung Mura, and $80,000 will go to Winnunga Nimmityjah to provide additional mental health services at AMC.

Canberra Health Services – Justice Health Services will receive $120,000 in funding to provide additional capacity for Justice Health Services at the AMC, supporting people experiencing high prevalence disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Mental Illness Education ACT will receive $70,000, as will Lifeline ACT.

Martin Fisk, CEO Menslink.

Menslink CEO Martin Fisk said, “the funding is critical for making sure we’re ready when young men and their families need us most”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CARE Financial Counselling, Menslink, the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre and the Multicultural Hub Canberra will each receive $40,000 while $50,000 will go to OzHelp.

Menslink CEO Martin Fisk thanked the ACT Government for the funding.

“Our experience from last year is that there are very significant mental health impacts as we come out of lockdown and that’s what we need to prepare for. The funding is critical for making sure we’re ready when young men and their families need us most,” Mr Fisk said.

A Gender Agenda and Woden Community Services for the Transition to Recovery (TRec) will each receive $20,000.

Parentline will receive $10,000.

To ensure people with disability remain supported throughout the pandemic, $30,000 will go to Advocacy for Inclusion and $30,000 to ACT Disability, Aged & Carer Advocacy Service.

$30,000 will go towards Mental Health First Aid training for businesses and $100,000 in additional funding will be directed into the Community Assistance and Support Program.

An additional $1.442 million is also to be split across community health organisations such as Directions Health Services, Community Options, Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy, the Interchange Health Co-op, the Australian Breastfeeding Association and Companion House.

A group of flexible alcohol and other drug services will receive $160,000 to provide additional treatment and counselling support to those with substance abuse conditions.

Carrie-Ann Leeson

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson says the organisation cannot continue to operate under the perception they receive more Government funding than at present. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

3:00 pm: Today’s announcement from the ACT Government of a $14 million mental health and community health care support package for Canberrans has had a mixed reaction from those active in the mental health community sector.

As the impacts of extended lockdowns, uncertainty and isolation continue to be felt across the Territory, Lifeline ACT CEO Carrie Leeson says that she is happy to see the conversation around mental health is brought further into the light.

“It is pleasing to see mental health being made a priority by the Government,” Ms Leeson said.

However, from Lifeline ACT’s perspective, it had been “bitterly disappointing” not to have seen an increase in funding, despite the obvious rise in demand for its services.

Lifeline ACT’s total funding from the ACT Government has remained static for around a decade, at around $200,000. It is among the lowest-funded services in the mental health sector currently and they do not receive any funding from the Federal Government or Lifeline Australia.

“We are, in many cases, the organisation people turn to first. There is no doubt that our 24/7 crisis support and mental health services lighten the load for other health services in the community. We cannot continue under the perception that we are more adequately government-funded in Canberra,” Ms Leeson said.

It’s estimated that Lifeline ACT has experienced a 40 per cent increase in demand for its services. Around 10 per cent of the population in Canberra has already availed of their services during the current lockdown.

“Our community cannot imagine a world without Lifeline in it,” she said.

“This fundamental service cannot be expected to continue to run on only $200,000 per year – particularly in a year where we’ve not been able to hold a book fair.”

READ ALSO Bring the ‘shadow pandemic’ of suicide out of the darkness and into the light

The Mental Health Community Coalition of the ACT (MHCC ACT) CEO Bec Cody commended the funding boost from the ACT and the Federal Government’s earlier announcement.

She said the extra funds will allow the sector to continue supporting the region’s most vulnerable.

“Our member organisations in the community mental health sector have been informing us of the increased demand for services since the start of the pandemic. This current lockdown has seen this increase even further,” she said.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) also welcomed the government’s announcement, with CEO Craig Wallace describing it as a vital and very timely response to the unprecedented pressures now facing vulnerable Canberrans and organisations right now.

“Only this morning ACTCOSS heard loud and clear from frontline organisations that they are experiencing levels and types of demand they have never seen before. People tell us the phones are ringing off the hook, almost every call is a crisis call, and every worker is flat out,” he said.

Speaking at today’s COVID briefing, Chief Minister Andrew Barr defended his decision not to provide a Victorian or NSW-style roadmap, despite the impact of uncertainty on the community’s wellbeing and mental health.

He said further information will be provided on density limits and gathering sizes at a later date.

However, Mr Barr noted that the ACT had moved quicker than other states to prioritise mental health concerns and had never enacted “some of the more draconian measures that other states have” such as “curfews or arresting people for eating kebabs in parks – things that occurred in NSW earlier on in the outbreak”.

He noted that the ACT’s approach had been very different in this regard.

READ ALSO The Institutions: What some of our faves are offering in lockdown

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said today’s announcement was intended to build on prior funding increases to the mental health sector which had been made in last year’s lockdown, as well as in this year’s budget.

Regarding the mental health and wellbeing support of ACT Government staff and frontline workers, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said that while she could not provide specifics around the supports they have in place, she was aware they are extensive.

“Wellbeing supports for our own staff are very high on the agenda for all of our Directors-General and they do take the time to check in with staff,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith also urged Canberrans to be kind to those people working on the phone lines, whether Access Canberra staff, the exemptions team or others.

At today’s press conference, it was announced that the Kambah Medical Centre was a close contact exposure site for Friday, 10 September between 7:45 am and 9:00 am.

Anyone who is a close contact must complete the declaration form, get tested and quarantine immediately.

Bus routes 6, 51, 59, 902, 65, 64, 66, 65 and light rail route one are casual contact sites. Check the website for exact times.

Calwell Early Childhood Centre between 8:00 am and 8:40 am on Friday, 17 September has also been listed as a casual contact site.

Monitor for symptoms locations have been named in Hume, Kambah, Chisholm, Majura Park, Conder, Amaroo, Belconnen, Gungahlin, Jamison, Manuka and Greenway.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at this morning’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

UPDATED 12:20 pm: There are 16 new COVID-19 cases in the ACT overnight, of which nine are linked and three were quarantined for the entirety of their infectious period. But at least 11 people spent time in the community.

Ten people are hospitalised and two are in intensive care, including a child under 12 and a person in their 90s.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman told today’s COVID briefing that 227 active cases are being managed in the ACT.

The Calwell Early Childhood Centre has been named a casual contact site and the Kambah Medical Centre is a close contact site, but there are no new public sites of transmission or cases linked to them.

Dr Coleman cautioned that the ACT’s small population meant that fluctuating numbers make it hard to identify trends, although the median case for the outbreak remains a 26-year-old male and 31 per cent of total cases have been in children under 18. Nine children in total have been hospitalised, including six under the age of 12.

There are now 77 cases where the contact or source of infection is unknown, but 90 per cent of cases have been linked and Dr Coleman said around two-thirds of cases are now household contacts. Transmission has occurred in essential workplaces, including childcare, construction, rideshare and restaurant kitchens.

There have been 10 separate infection incursions, although some of these are in people who tested on day one and have been quarantined throughout their infectious period. However, at least two incursions have resulted in significant community transmission.

“Unfortunately, we do still see people delaying getting tested after their symptoms occur,” Dr Coleman said.

“You need to present on the day you develop symptoms. Please don’t put it off. There are still 40 per cent of cases waiting two or more days after symptoms develop to get tested and 10 per cent of cases waiting five or more days.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr focussed on major mental health announcements for the short and long term at today’s briefing, saying “this is one of the most challenging times our community has faced.”

“It’s OK to not be OK and support is available,” he said.

Mr Barr announced $3.6 million of additional short-term support, including expanding the existing Police, Ambulance and Clinical Response (PACER) team, Directions Health Services, Interchange Health Co-op, Community Options, and the Community Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy to improve access to care for the most vulnerable Canberrans.

Care Financial Services will receive funding to support people who have lost work and income. There will also be more services for young people with moderate to severe mental illness to receive intensive support at home. Funding for services and support has been allocated to people with eating disorders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, refugees and asylum seekers.

In the longer term, ACT budget items totalling $10.3 million will include significant funding for alcohol and other drug services for young people, including an integrated face to face digital mental health program delivered through Orygen’s Moderated Online Social Therapy program.

Catholic Youth Care will receive funding for a multi-disciplinary outreach program to provide young people with mental health services. There will be more money for Parent Line, for expanding the needle and syringe program, and exploring options for a medically supervised drug consumption facility, including the service model and potential location.

There is also funding for a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residential alcohol and other drug rehabilitation centre run in conjunction with the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Centre. The Ted Noffs and Catholic Care facilities in Watson will be redeveloped.

Mr Barr thanked Commonwealth Health Minister Greg Hunt for his collaborative work on boosting funding for crisis and mental health services for young people in particular.

11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday, the ACT recorded seven cases, but this morning, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said Canberrans shouldn’t expect another day of single-digit figures today as cases would fluctuate.

Nine cases are linked and the remainder are under investigation by contact tracers.

Only three were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least 11 spent part of their infectious period in the community.

There are currently 10 people in hospital with COVID, two are in ICU and both require ventilation.

A total of 2120 tests were conducted yesterday, down from 2646 the day before.

Yesterday, 2322 vaccination bookings were made yesterday for Canberrans aged 12 to 15 through ACT Government clinics, but Chief Minister Andrew Barr reminded parents that Pfizer can also be accessed through GPs and Moderna is available through pharmacies.

NSW has recorded 1022 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths.

Yesterday there were 935 cases and four deaths.

Victoria recorded 603 cases and one death. Yesterday there were 567 new cases and one death.

Bus stop sign and bus.

Several buses and light rail routes were added as casual contact exposure sites overnight. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

9:50 am: In what seems to be a continuing trend, very few exposure sites were added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure list overnight, and none of these were listed as close sites.

Canberra Paediatric Dentistry in Deakin has been named a casual contact exposure site for Friday, 10 September, between 11:15 am and 12:40 pm. The Pharmacy on Franklin is also a casual exposure site on Monday, 6 September, between 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm.

Several light rail and bus routes are listed as casual exposure sites spanning the City, Kippax, Dickson, Casey, Gungahlin, Watson, Phillip and Belconnen.

Eighteen locations have been added across the Territory under the monitor for symptoms category.

These were located in Belconnen, Phillip, Woden, Dickson, Greenway, Majura Park, Conder, Kippax, Amaroo, Gungahlin, Franklin, Jamison, Manuka and Hawker.

The ACT yesterday recorded seven new cases of COVID-19, but only two of these were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. It’s the first time the ACT has had a single-digit daily caseload since Wednesday, 25 August.

READ ALSO ‘He doesn’t feel safe’: construction worker’s family speaks out after site named an exposure location

Speaking this morning on breakfast radio, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said that while yesterday’s caseload was small, cases tend to fluctuate, so Canberrans shouldn’t expect another day of single-digit figures today.

“It is part of a trend where we are seeing plateauing numbers and lower numbers of people infectious in the community.”

She echoed Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s comments at yesterday’s press conference, who noted that the testing numbers on Sunday were lower than in previous days.

“Today’s case numbers are positive, but as was the case on Friday when we reported 30 cases, it’s too early to know whether this is just a one-off,” Mr Barr said.

“It has been clear over the last five weeks that daily case numbers have fluctuated.”

She also issued a plea to Canberrans not to deliberately look for loopholes to be out and about more than strictly necessary. She said she’d seen some social media chatter around online marketplaces operating despite them not being classed as essential.

An announcement on increased funding to the mental health sector is expected at today’s 11:45 am press conference.

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In regards to schools a petition has been started

The ACT should allow children to go back to school based on ACT Vaccination thresholds and not wait for National Vaccination thresholds as well as have a clear detailed plan for doing so before the start of Term 4.


CM Barr is now moving from a narrative of we are following a national plan to, just because NSW and VIC provide a plan, doesn’t mean the ACT is going to. The comparisons provided between states is also a long stretch, the only difference between restrictions across the three impacted states are the curfews, that’s it. And, we have much lower rates of Covid in the ACT, so this needs to be take into account as well.

Regardless, the same point remains.

The National Plan states that the following in Phase A which we are in – under “measure may include at ~70% vaccination rate.

– Minimise cases in the community through effective
test, trace and isolate capabilities;
– Early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks

Nowhere does the plan say, keep waiting out the lockdowns until all states get to 80% that is the ACT governments interpretation and decision, with little analysis or evidence yet presented to support this decision.

It is up to the states how they interpret this. Therefore, the question is – how exactly is the ACT government interpreting this? This is where the plan comes in. And that is what they are not being transparent about.

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