Felicity Watson is looking forward to informing Medicare Local of the gaps in local mental health care.
Felicity Watson is looking forward to informing Medicare Local of the gaps in local mental health care. ADAM HOURIGAN

Gaps to fill with Canberra cash

SIGNIFICANT Commonwealth funding is available for mental health programs in the Clarence Valley and a new organisation, North Coast Medicare Local, may be able to help its distribution.

Though NCML can't help directly with The Daily Examiner's latest push for an overnight mental health facility at Grafton Base Hospital, the organisation's chief executive Vahid Saberi said he would listen to all concerns at a planned public meeting on mental health set down for Tuesday, June 5 at the Grafton District Services Club.

"I am familiar that there has been a need expressed for an overnight mental health facility in Grafton ... but bed-based services need to be funded through the state," he said. "But I would be happy to advocate for it."

"My jurisdiction is outside hospital walls."

Mr Saberi said NCML co-ordinated services from GPs, specialists and some aged-care facilities - "anywhere that Commonwealth funding is provided for the service".

He said his organisation administered programs like ATAPS (Access to Allied Psychological Services) which catered for those with mild cases of mental illness in a free six-week course with a psychologist and a follow-up six-week program if needed.

A former general manager of the Richmond Clarence Health Service Group, Mr Saberi was once responsible for the management of 10 hospitals including Lismore Base, Ballina, Grafton, Casino and Maclean Hospitals and a range of Community and Allied Health Services.

He took up his position with NCML in April and said yesterday he was busy trying to identify gaps in medical service delivery on the North Coast. Next in NCML's plan would be to try to fill those gaps by funding them directly or facilitating the implementation .

NCML is a not-for-profit organisation and is part of the national body Medicare Locals - a network of primary health care organis- ations formed as part of the Federal Government's health reform package.

Mr Saberi said many surveys had shown the community's desire to have better health services outside hospitals. "We need good hospital services, but that's just one piece of the jigsaw," he said.

He advised any steering committee aiming at establishing an overnight mental health facility in Grafton to look at the whole picture of mental health and to maintain a dialogue with the Northern NSW Local Health District who would create a "demand picture" for the area's mental health services.

If a need for such a facility could be identified in the community, he said, the district may look at a six- or eight-bed mental health unit at the hospital but many issues needed to be considered.

"People are surprised what goes into a 24/7 facility," he said.

He said three shifts of two nurses would be required each day for an eight-bed facility which meant 12 would probably have to be employed to cover weekends and holidays and this was without considering psycho- logical and psychiatric needs.

He said Grafton Base Hospital already admitted mental patients but was aware that some problems had been identified with this arrangement.

Mental Health campaigner Felicity Watson welcomed the potential of funding for mental health and said she was looking forward to helping Mr Saberi identify some gaping holes in mental health service delivery.

As a person with bi-polar (2) and generalised anxiety disorder, Ms Watson said she knew first-hand that people with chronic mental health problems were being constantly overlooked by state and federal services.

"Just this week Patrick McGorry (former Australian of the Year) said cuts to Better Access meant people with complicated mental health issues were falling through the cracks," she said.


Useful contacts

Mental Health Services 24hr health line - 1800 011 511.

ATAPS (Access to Allied Psychological Services) - 6 week program through your GP

Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636 - can provide help and advice.

Lifeline - 13 11 14 - is available 24/7 for suicide counselling.

Kid's Helpline - 1800 551 800. Men's Line Australia - 1300 78 9978.

Alcohol and other Drug Info - 1800 422 599, Alcoholics Anonymous - 6649 4721.

Community Health - Grafton 6640 2402, Maclean 6640 0123.

Bulgarr Ngaru Aboriginal Medical Services - 6643 2199.

CHESS Employment (PHaMs, SMART Recovery, Bike Recycling) - 6644 3222.CRANES

REACH Program - 6642 7257.

Cranes Community Support - Grafton 6642 7257, Maclean 6645 5080.

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