Archived News Item

Caring for patients of a refugee background at Mater Health Services Brisbane

Sr Sandra Lupi, Congregation Leader – Sisters of Mercy Brisbane and Lavinia Yor, originally from Sudan, at Mater Health Services Brisbane’s Refugee Week Celebrations

The Sisters of Mercy Brisbane Congregation have a long history of reaching out to people in need and identified the need to support the health care of refugees and asylum seekers by filling the gap in refugee health care in Brisbane.

The Sisters provided initial support with in-kind funding to help establish a refugee primary health care clinic. Mater Health Services Brisbane now operates an initial health assessment service for all newly arrived refugees and an extended care service for people of a refugee background with complex health issues – Refugee Health Queensland plus a dedicated antenatal clinic for women of a refugee background.

In 2001 when refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran were being released from Detention Centres on Temporary Protection Visas, Mater Health Services responded by providing clinic accommodation for a group of volunteer GPs to provide health care to people without Medicare eligibility. This clinic developed into an extended care service and since its inception has provided integrated, coordinated and culturally sensitive care that is now part of Refugee Health Queensland.

Refugee Health Queensland is a state-wide coordinating service that organises health care services for refugees across Queensland and provides a health assessment service for newly arrived refugees.

In late 2004 and early 2005 refugee camps across Africa were being closed, culminating in large numbers of people being relocated as humanitarian refugees across the world, with many people from Sudan, Ethiopia, Liberia and Burundi settling in Brisbane. The arrival of new communities to Queensland brought with them new and complex health issues not usually encountered by health care workers in Australia.

To accommodate this new area in health care, Mater Mothers’ Hospitals and the Sisters of Mercy collaborated on a project to support a Refugee Community Worker. The aim of the project was to identify a best practice model to support appropriate health care, psycho-social support and resources for women of a refugee background birthing at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals.

The outcomes of the two year project which benefited from extensive community participation, informed Mater’s organisation-wide efforts to improve its cultural responsiveness, as well as established a specific antenatal clinic for women from a refugee background which commenced at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals in November 2008.

The model of care which emphasises culturally appropriate continuity of care comprises a multidisciplinary team including a lead obstetrician, dedicated midwife, social worker and interpreters.

The midwife and social worker team provide each woman and her family with individualised care as well as linking with appropriate community agencies to ensure ongoing support during pregnancy and the post-natal period. Language services have been streamlined within the clinic with interpreters clustered into language groups specific to the needs of the women. Since 2008 the Refugee Maternity Service has provided maternity care to 511 women and their families.

Mater Health Services celebrates Refugee Week with the sharing of food from different cultures and the opportunity for staff to listen to a choir made up of people of a refugee background. Members of Mater’s Cultural Diversity Network use the week to inform staff of the diversity of patients of a refugee background accessing Mater’s services along with providing education sessions throughout the year related to the refugee experience.