As we are all coming to terms with the devastating bushfires that have ravaged many parts of Australia our thoughts at this time are with all those who have been and continue to be affected by the crisis. Our condolences and thoughts are particularly with those who have lost loved ones.
These bushfires have had an immediate toll on individuals and communities directly affected by this unprecedented disaster, but the ongoing effects will continue to be felt in the days, months and years to follow.
It’s also important to note that we can all feel affected, albeit in different ways, by this tragedy. There is no one appropriate response. Many Australians are feeling overwhelmed and sad about the bushfires even though we may not be directly affected. Just watching and absorbing this tragedy is emotionally challenging for us all.
As an organisation Country SA PHN has felt the devastation of communities in our region - the fires in the Adelaide Hills, on Kangaroo Island and those in the South East have had direct impacts on communities we engage with, know well and support on a daily basis.
We have all witnessed the remarkable way our bushfire affected communities have rallied and supported each other in this time of crisis and the generosity of Australians from all around the country wanting to help. The resilience of our South Australian communities in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island has epitomised the care and concern of our strong communities as they’ve come together to support each other. This community care will continue to provide the backbone in the challenging times ahead.
We are still in the early stages of finalising arrangements with the Department of Health regarding funding and approach and coordinating with providers to implement services. We will continue to keep our communities and health partners abreast of developments and updates as information comes to hand. It is a long road to recovery but as an organisation we are privileged to be able to assist this process and our South Australian communities emotional wellbeing.
Mental health support for Australians affected by the 2019–20 bushfires
Country SA PHN will be implementing additional mental health services as we receive funding over two years to administer the Federal Government’s Supporting the Mental Health of Australians Affected by Bushfires measure.
These Bushfire Recovery Access Initiatives will fund a range of activities some of which include: Frontline Distress and Trauma Counselling; additional Child and Youth mental health support services provided by headspace; community grants and additional support for existing mental health services.
To ensure these services get to those who need them in a timely manner we will be working collaboratively with State and Local Government, Services Australia, the Red Cross and other peak bodies, existing service providers and local communities.
Frontline Distress and Trauma Counselling
CSAPHN will shortly commission and announce the local established service providers to provide immediate counselling and other mental health services to support the needs of people experiencing distress or trauma as a result of the South Australian bushfires, including emergency response personnel.
These services will be:
- Free of charge, offering up to ten mental health services to individuals, families and emergency personnel affected by bushfires;
- Delivered by appropriately qualified and trained service provider organisations and clinicians;
- Made accessible to individuals in those locations most impacted by the bushfires, including through pop up centres and recovery centres; and
- Provided on an outreach basis in the short to medium term to ensure access by particular communities most impacted by the bushfires.
CSAPHN currently funds a number of mental health services in Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island region that are prioritising Bushfire related referrals.
From 17 January, you’ll be able to get Medicare benefits for up to 10 mental health treatment services if:
- you or your family have been impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires
- you’re a first responder or emergency management employee or volunteer who worked during the 2019-20 bushfires.
To make it as simple and fast as possible to access the new items, individuals do not need to have a GP referral or mental health treatment plan, but can seek appointments directly with suitable GPs, psychologists, and other eligible mental health professionals.
Sessions are available between 17 January 2020 and 31 December 2021. They’re in addition to the 10 psychological therapy sessions currently available under the existing Better Access Program. If you need support before 17 January, talk to your GP about your existing mental health treatment options.
The new Bushfire Recovery and telehealth Medicare items will apply to all Australians, including children, young people, adults, seniors, and frontline emergency personnel who were residents of, working in, or visiting a bushfire affected region.
The expanded telehealth Initiative will allow people in rural and remote areas affected by bushfires to receive Medicare rebated counselling and psychological support through video telehealth services. This will also allow eligible GPs to deliver mental health and wellbeing support via telehealth.
Services can be accessed from now until 31 December 2021.
Telehealth services are available by contacting your local GP or psychologist.
All information about the mental health supports, and how to access these in fire affected communities can be found on the Human Services website which is updated regularly: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/subjects/bushfire-recovery-access-program.
About the mental health response and what is included
For those interested in the announcement and the breakdown of initiatives included in the funding:
- A joint media release from the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister Hunt’s Office about the mental health package, including a summary of funding breakdown can be found here:https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/immediate-mental-health-services-deployed-into-fire-affected-communities
- An FAQ about each initiative, how it will be delivered and timing can be found here:https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/emergency-health-management/bushfire-information-and-support/australian-government-mental-health-response-to-bushfire-trauma
Individuals wanting to access the immediate free counselling and additional supports (telehealth and Medicare sessions)
For people wanting to know how they can access the free counselling in bushfire affected communities (without the need for a referral or mental health plan), there are several avenues.
- On the ground, you can access free counselling sessions by visiting your nearest recovery centre, evacuation centre, Mobile Services Centre and mental health services commissioned by Primary Health Networks (you can view these here: www.health.gov.au/phn)
- Contact Services Australia 180 22 66 to either speak with a social worker or find out how to locate and access support in your community
- All information about the mental health supports, and how to access these in fire affected communities can be found on the Human Services website which is updated regularly:https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/subjects/bushfire-recovery-access-program. I would recommend sharing this website and the Services Australia phone number across social channels and in communications to those needing support.
GPs and health professionals wanting to know more about mental health support through Medicare
For health professionals wanting to find out more about the changes to MBS items and who is eligible, they can refer to the January 2020 MBS Online factsheet at:http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/Factsheet-AmendedMentalHealth
Consolidated Mental Health Information Webpage – Helplines, Resources, Disaster Toolkits and Fact Sheets
Some people may be enquiring about where to access all the current supports and resources available across the mental health sector. There have been incredible resources and toolkits developed by organisations and agencies (including yourself) to assist in responding to distress during and after the bushfires.
The Commission has engaged with the Life In Mind team at Everymind, and the mental health sector, to develop a webpage where existing helplines, disaster toolkits, resources and information can be found in the one location. This will be updated on an ongoing basis to ensure the information remains relevant to each phase and meets community needs. We welcome and encourage you using and sharing this link with your stakeholders:https://www.lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/mental-health-support-for-bushfire-affected-communities
About the bushfire response more broadly
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency (https://pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/national-bushfire-recovery-agency) will oversee a National Bushfire Recovery Fund which will support all recovery efforts across Australia over the next two years. The agency is based out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its website includes fact sheets with more details on the recovery efforts, where people can go to for support and key contacts for emergency assistance.
Community grants to help communities recover
Country SA PHN, via the Australian Government mental health response to bushfire trauma, will offer community connectedness and recovery grants of up to $10,000 to fund grass-roots level activities to help mental health and healing activities after the bushfires.
These activities will promote peer support and community capacity building, empowering local residents with the skills and resources to help each other, seek help and support others.
How to Apply?
At this time the details are still being formalised. We anticipate that applications will be open and accepted from mid-February with activity to start from April to June 2020.
Once released, applications will be managed on our e-Procurement Portal, TenderLink.
To use this system and access our tender documents you must first be a registered supplier; there is no charge to register and download our tender documents. To register, got the portal and click the Registration menu item.
If your organisation is currently registered for TenderLink but users are no longer current, please contact TenderLink Support on 1800 233 533 for assistance
Offers of support
As an organisation we have felt the generosity of our community as we have been inundated with various offers of support including clinicians offering their services.
CSAPHN has an important role in coordination of the mental health response through the role of Bushfire Trauma Response Coordinators and through working with other state, local and non-government agencies to ensure complementarity and integration of services.
We are collecting volunteer information for emergency situations, including bushfires for temporary workforce and vacancies in field primary care clinics to be shared with the relevant government authorities in times of need.
To help coordinate these offers we have set up a register here.
We thank you for your generosity and patience and we will be in touch.
For more information please see the Australian Government Department of Health Bushfire information and support page.