Bridging the healthcare chasm – providing care for Coffs Harbour’s most vulnerable

Dr Ryan Partridge (L) and Ms Luisa Eckhardt offer health services to some of Coffs Harbour’s most vulnerable.


MOST of us take for granted activities such as obtaining medication, going shopping or getting a haircut.

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However, as Luisa Eckhardt from Frankly Health Care Association Incorporated says, “Filling out a form can often be too much when your day is consumed by finding something to eat and somewhere safe to sleep.”

Since the start of September, Ms Eckhardt, an occupational therapist, and Dr Ryan Partridge, a general practitioner from Bowraville, have been providing primary health care for vulnerable people at Pete’s Place at the Coffs Harbour Community Village every Friday.

Frankly Healthcare’s overall goal is to integrate at-risk people back into mainstream medical services.

Ms Eckhardt assists clients with setting immediate personal goals such as filling out applications for support and getting access to services.

She also offers occupation-based services to help people find purpose and meaningful engagement with life through everyday undertakings such as budgeting and accessing training.

Activities like this are often insurmountable for those experiencing homelessness because they don’t have the family or community ‘safety net’ that most other people have.

The underlying component of the work of Frankly Healthcare is about building trust by being consistent.

Ms Eckhardt said that they were not sure how their assistance would be received at the beginning but felt that coming to their clients’ space was very helpful.

They use a harm minimisation approach of not making lifestyle choices ‘wrong’ but by suggesting that an activity might not be safe and working with clients to identify ways of things being safer for them and people around them.

“We know the uptake of advice is very high because people come back and tell us,” she said.

Dr. Partridge provides responsive first aid, such as treating wounds, tick removal and writing prescriptions for conditions such as diabetes.

This timely primary care minimises the need for more intensive health services later on.

Dr Partridge said that Frankly Healthcare’s ‘pop up’ service is a widely-used model for providing health services for people experiencing homelessness.

He said that he hoped that other doctors might be able to provide more regular medical services for those in need.

Some of Frankly Healthcare’s clients already see general practitioners, but making appointments and arranging transport can be very difficult for them.

It is also very helpful that Pete’s Place is very different to a doctor’s waiting room.

Dr Partridge’s medical students sometimes attend and find the different style of medicine interesting and fulfilling.

Ms Eckhardt said that they deliver a ‘trauma-informed’ service to those who need it by having a solid understanding of how trauma can affect lifestyles.

During treatment or assistance conversations with clients often indicate underlying issues and what further assistance might be needed.

“They are the experts on what they need,” Ms Eckhardt said.


By Andrew VIVIAN

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