12.11.2020Working Together: Royal Flying Doctor Service (VIC)

1/ How does your organisation contribute to the wellbeing of society?

RFDS Victoria views health and wellbeing as essential for individuals and communities to thrive. Events such as natural disasters and global pandemics remind us all of this, but it is important to remember that a need has existed well before any crises and will also be there into the future.

Many people cannot access the health and wellbeing services they need to achieve the best possible physical and mental health. Accessibility is often viewed as the ability to get an appointment, but there are many other factors to consider, such as geography, financial stresses, awareness, transport, personal mobility and stigma. Whatever the reason, health inequity is unacceptable and everyone deserves access to essential health care and wellbeing support.

Our goal is to break down barriers to accessing health care. We do this by taking in-person health care to communities, providing services remotely, and transporting people to the health care they need.

More recently we have been at the frontline of COVID-19 in Melbourne having completed more than 1,800 transports for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, supporting Ambulance Victoria and the overall government response.

RFDS Victoria services cover almost 90% of the state reaching in excess of 100,000 patients and clients annually.

2/ Prior to COVID-19, did your organisation collaborate with a NFP / private organisation to deliver a positive social outcome? How did you collaborate and what did you achieve together?

RFDS has more than 90 years’ history in connecting people in remote locations to the essential health care they deserve – and the philosophy of partnering for better outcomes has always existed.

Many of our health services are built on partnerships with local providers, industry leaders, peak associations and governing bodies to ensure we are connecting people with the best possible care, with local knowledge and community encouragement. We also work in partnership with donors and corporate partners to help fund our initiatives. Whatever form the partnership takes, it aims to be impactful and mutually beneficial.

In partnership with Robinvale District Health Service and Mallee Track Health and Community Service, we work collaboratively to deliver programs to meet a range of health needs in a diverse community. In June 2018 we have extended our partnership to launch a Flying Doctor Speech Therapy program for children under 12 years of age with hundreds of young clients now accessing this essential service.

We know that language delay during early childhood can have a long-term impact. We also know that only 4.5% of speech pathology practitioners operate in rural communities. Difficulty recruiting allied health professionals is a universal problem for rural areas, resulting in limited or no available services as well as long wait times for appointments.

A vulnerable population and a scarce workforce presented a huge challenge, leading our organisations to collaborate in the pursuit of providing much needed paediatric speech services.

Alongside our partners we have successfully developed a delegation model of care approach with Speech Pathologists and Allied Health Assistants, including a telehealth component as well.

The team travelled approximately 20,000km in a year to establish the program, improving speech and language outcomes for more children and reducing wait times for services.

The success of this partnership and other RFDS partnerships is in line with the Committee for Melbourne’s Guiding Principles for NFP & Private Sector Collaboration.

  • Common purpose – when operating in partnership with other health organisations we always have a shared sense of purpose but have learned with corporate partners that alignment can come from surprising places. For example, we may align on shared purpose to use technology to break down barriers or patient centricity values which align with customer centricity of a corporate – but no matter what shared purpose, it must be tangible.
  • Complete understanding – we work in a complex space, often with multiple partners within a project. It is essential to hold open lines of communication and be clear about boundaries and expected challenges.
  • Proportional sharing – often we operate in innovative spaces endeavouring to develop new services in partnership. This carries risk so we do seek a level of commitment either financial or other resources which assures us that the service we plan to deliver is sustainable and there is buy-in from all parties.
  • Strong governance – detailed MOUs are signed between partners to ensure commitment is understood. We also aim to create trust in the partnership so that everyone is comfortable discussing issues.
  • Performance measurement – RFDS Victoria is working on delivering a social impact reporting model and data warehouse to enable even more effective reporting to our partners to demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of our collaborative endeavours. We also conduct external evaluation of our programs to consider community benefit and ability to engage new partners in other locations.

3/ Have you and your partner organisation increased collaborative efforts in the wake of COVID-19? What measures have you taken? Please describe.

The strength of our partnerships in north-west Victoria allowed for innovation, agility and responsiveness when COVID-19 emerged. Services such as our GP program and speech therapy services pivoted to telehealth to ensure continuity of care for patients and clients.

We also collaborated to protect the community with RFDS GP Dr Bec Jacobs – in close consultation with local health care stakeholders, Robinvale District Health Services, along with local pathology and pharmacy providers – swinging into action to best prepare the town of Robinvale for the pandemic.

Robinvale draws a wide range of people, many seeking short-term work in the local fruit and veg-picking industry. This makes for a vibrant, multicultural population, but can also create unique challenges when it comes to public health messaging and limiting the spread of a highly contagious virus.

The success of our existing partnership and a genuine commitment to shared purpose, understanding and proportional sharing, meant that successful outcomes were achieved quickly and effectively in a time of high need.

RFDS Victoria worked closely with partners, regularly meeting to discuss the town’s approach and provide support where needed.

Some of this support included helping Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-op. With locum doctors unable to get into the town due to travel restrictions, Dr Jacobs took care of the clients they normally saw at the co-op, whilst supporting the organisation’s nurses and Aboriginal health workers.

With most consultations shifting to telehealth, Dr Jacobs also worked closely with the local pharmacy. Safe delivery and collection plans were implemented for high-risk clients needing scripts filled.

Bringing the logistical expertise of the RFDS patient transport road ambulance team, and the local knowledge and skills of Robinvale District Health Services, agile testing clinics were established across the greater area. Pathology support was provided for the testing clinics, and plans set in place should a member of the health care community fall ill with the virus.

This holistic approach to protecting the people of Robinvale and surrounds was coordinated and thoughtful and demonstrated a high degree of trust in our partnership.

4/ Why will Melbourne be a better city if more NFP and private organisations collaborate in the post-pandemic period

We have become accustomed to change in recent months and most leaders are unwilling to simply return to how things were pre-pandemic. In partnership we have managed to find new ways to serve our communities in a time of high stress, and some innovations will remain a part of programs going forward. Through times of crises we have a renewed focus on putting people first; particularly the most vulnerable and in need.

Organisations have proven they can be agile and challenge has brought common purpose to the fore. The most complex problems are the ones worth solving but we can’t do that alone. Proportional sharing is fundamental to move forward, particularly when resources are strained. Partners can bring a range of options to the table whether it’s a technical solution, assets, new ways of tackling problems or funding.

Our partnerships have taught us that if you’ve got the right partners with an alignment of values and intentions, the sum of the whole is greater than the parts.

The issues facing Melbourne and the needs of the community must be at the centre of our endeavour, surrounded with collaborative, strong partners who are willing to share the risk for maximum benefit. We are stronger when we work together.

Scott Chapman, Chief Executive

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