Hospitals can be alienating places at the best of times. But for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly those who associate healthcare institutions with children being taken away, the experience of accessing health care can be highly stressful, leading to significantly poorer health outcomes for the community.
That’s why using a culturally respectful approach to solving the problem makes so much sense according to Joyce Graham, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Service manager at ACT Health.
Joyce, who is a proud Kamilaroi woman, says she’s more excited about an initiative to introduce yarning circles to health care than she has been about almost anything else in her 16 years of work in ACT Health.
“A yarning circle is what we as a community use to problem-solve or make decisions,” she says.
“We all sit in a circle and we can see each other’s faces. We sit around a fire of respect that represents spirit and people, and serves as a reminder that those talking need to do so with respect.”
Joyce says that there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people who struggle to navigate a complex health care system.
“The statistical outcomes for our mob is not good. We recognise that in Canberra Health Services. But historically hospitals haven’t been places where we felt safe.
“Children have been removed, there’s a lot of stigma for us associated with health care. We are actively trying to change that, including working with our colleagues on the wards and nurses.
“Yarning circles are an opportunity for Canberra Health Services to sit down and listen to the simple things and the bigger stuff that we can change in the future,” she says.
“I think it will be an opportunity to voice concerns in a really safe way and identify key issues across all services, from the walk-in centres to mental health, women’s and children’s issues.”
The yarning circle process can also yield many other concerns about associated matters like housing and service access.
“We can say we hear you, we’ll pass this on to where it needs to go,” Joyce says.
“When we have the final results around health, we can take them back to the community. It’s a process of truth-telling that can be adapted to particular situations to solve a problem respectfully and by listening.”
The yarning circle plan is at the point of ethics approval and Joyce says executives with the service have been very supportive of the process and looking for direction from the community about what needs to be fixed.
Canberra Health Services will look to identify possible participants in July and run the yarning circles when the weather warms up and the COVID-19 threat passes.
“I have been here 16 years and this has really excited me”, Joyce says. “In that time Aboriginal health was on the radar but in the distance. Now it’s really and truly in focus and part of our strategic plan.
“Exciting things are happening. We will launch a consumer reference group in July to look at models of care and how we can make an input to everything from health education to building design.”
Further information is available from Joyce on 5124 2176.