Community respite centre and health assessment centre

COMMUNITY RESPITE CENTRE

The Department of Human Services (DHS) established a community respite centre in Moe on 19 February 2014, to provide local community members with a place to go to limit their exposure to smoke.93 The Victorian Government submitted that the community respite centre was established in line with the advice of Dr Lester that Morwell residents should limit their exposure to the smoke where possible.94

Mr Alan Hall, State Recovery Coordinator, informed the Board that the respite centre provided a cool, air conditioned space where any resident could take a break from the smoky conditions. He further informed the Board that free transport to attend the centre was provided to those who were aged, disabled or otherwise required transport assistance. DHS, Ambulance Victoria, Victoria Police, EPA, the CFA, relief agencies (including the Red Cross and Victoria Council of Churches), and Latrobe City Council personnel staffed the centre.95

The Board heard from community members that the community respite centre worked well, in particular that staff were helpful and that there was a variety of information provided.96 The Board also heard that the centre would have been more useful if opening hours were extended, and if a similar centre was also established in Morwell for community members who were unable to travel to Moe.97

HEALTH ASSESSMENT CENTRE

Dr Brook informed the Board that although local health services were able to meet demand during the Hazelwood mine fire, the Department of Health recognised that the community remained concerned about the potential adverse health effects of smoke and ash. The Department of Health therefore established a health assessment centre to address this ongoing concern.98

Dr Brook stated that the health assessment centre supplemented local medical resources and provided information and reassurance to the community. He described the reasons behind establishing the centre as follows:

We did so very conscious of what we were trying to do, which was not to replace primary care, not to replace general practitioners, not to replace Latrobe Regional Hospital and its emergency department, nor load onto it new activities that an emergency department doesn’t need, but to provide a capacity for any body in the community to attend, free of charge, a centre that would provide basic health assessment, that would provide as it turns out measurement of carboxyhaemoglobin, that is, the impact of carbon monoxide in the blood, and to provide both information and reassurance through personal interaction.99

The health assessment centre opened at the Ambulance Victoria Regional Office in Morwell on
21 February 2014, and was staffed by paramedics and nurses. The health assessment centre:

  • provided information, assessment, reassurance and referral services to residents and visitors who had health-related concerns arising from smoke and ash from the Hazelwood mine fire
  • performed basic health checks
  • provided carbon monoxide monitoring
  • delivered medical care as needed
  • provided referral to a local general practitioner or emergency department as required.100

The centre saw 2,072 individuals during its operation.101 Dr Lester informed the Board that data from the health assessment centre indicated multiple attendances of people with non-life threatening symptoms, however it did not suggest presentation of any serious medical concerns in relation to the fire.102 The daily attendances at the health assessment centre are demonstrated in Figure 4.53 below.

Figure 4.53 Daily attendance at the community health assessment centre103

4.53_Daily-attendance-_opt

The health assessment centre was generally well received by the community.104 The Victorian Council of Social Service submitted that the venture was an excellent example of local partnering between nurses from local community organisations and Ambulance Victoria.105

Some residents told the Board that the location of the health assessment centre was impractical. Ms Julia Browell of Morwell submitted that it was difficult for residents who did not have a car to get to the centre, as they were required to walk along busy roads and in the smoke from the closest bus stop.106 Mr Robert Jackman, Morwell resident, stated that he had difficulty initially locating the centre, which he attributed to Latrobe City Council’s lack of information about it.107

Local general practitioners informed the Board that it might have been better for local doctors to be present at the health assessment centre, rather than a representative from the Department of Health, as the community looks to a local leader to confirm their experience in an emergency.108

The health assessment centre received a Public Safety Award from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Australia.109