Former Tatura local to advise government on rural health policy

By Rodney Woods

A former Tatura local will be assisting the Federal Government with rural health policy after being named Australia's second National Rural Health Commissioner.

Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, who now lives on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, said she had been given "a broad brush of expectations" but pointed to one that would provide her with the most satisfaction.

“I have been tasked with implementing the recommendations of my predecessor for a national generalist program for allied health professionals,” the daughter of Jim and Fairlie Stewart said.

“I will have deputy commissioners who specialise in allied health care, nursing and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island health.

“I am also tasked with identifying and developing models of training for health care professionals and developing healthcare for remote and rural Australia.

“If I can contribute to closing the gap, I would consider that a great achievement.”

Prof Stewart, who has more than 30 years experience in the medical field, acknowledged the impacts drought, fires, COVID-19 and issues around water were having on farmers in this region.

“We're very conscious of the stress the agriculture industry is under,” she said.

“They've had droughts, fires and now the impact of COVID-19 and the challenges in the Goulburn-Murray area with water sustainability.

“Mental health is a really big issue in our remote communities.

“We need to find models of mental health care that are accessible for people living in remote and rural areas.

“We're well aware that men are less likely to seek help and I think that’s all to do with accessibility.

“We need to work out how to solve that problem.”

Prof Stewart said the fix wasn't as simple as using a successful model from the city and dropping it in rural communities.

“I think that is one of the issues,” she said.

“For the last 40 years, we've designed models for urban areas and fitted them into remote and rural areas and this fit isn't comfortable — it doesn't work well in the regions.

“That's partly because we are trying to deliver the models to a town too small for specialists and also we need to look at what is and what isn't culturally appropriate for those regions.”

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