2022 North Coast Floods

RESPONSE AND RECOVERY

Parts of our beautiful North Coast region were hit by extreme weather and devastating floods impacting thousands of people in late February 2022 and again in March. Our communities faced severe disruption to critical primary care services during these challenging times.

With funding support from the Australian Government and the NSW Government, Healthy North Coast worked hand in hand with our region’s primary care workforce and health system partners to respond to this unprecedented situation.

Primary health care crisis response

Support on the ground in evacuation centres

During the height of the flood response, 23 centres were operationalised with health provision and support provided by Healthy North Coast, in partnership with the NNSWLHD. 

From 4 March 2022 and again in partnership with the NNSWLHD, Healthy North Coast deployed 23 Healthy Minds providers across 10 evacuation and recovery centres for up to seven days a week, to deliver brief intervention, support and referral. In total, Healthy North Coast commissioned 34 mental health practitioners to provide brief interventions at eight recovery centres from 9 March to 3 June 2022.  

Digital health at the disaster frontline

With access to normal GP and primary care services disrupted, the Healthy North Coast-funded GP Telehealth service, established during the March 2021 Mid North Coast flood response, offered immediate support for the health needs of people in the worst-affected communities. It included free 24/7 GP consultations, prescriptions, and medical certificates. 

With more than more than 75% of Lismore general practices impacted by the 28 February flood, demand for Healthy North Coast’s GP Telehealth service leapt from a previous monthly average of about 300 consultations to more than 1,500 consultations in March. Following the 30 March flood, there were 1,056 telehealth consultations during April.  

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Mental health support to a community in crisis

The Healthy North Coast-funded mental health service, Connect to Wellbeing, extended its helpline opening hours as part of the immediate response to the floods. Connect to Wellbeing saw a 70 per cent increase in calls in March 2022 and a 50 per cent increase in referrals processed.  

In total, from 28 February to 4 May the Connect to Wellbeing line received 1,395 calls. The top presentation themes were around distress, grief around loss of belongings and homes, bereavement, health conditions, PTSD, sleeplessness, anxiety, trauma, panic, suicidal ideation, stress related to accommodation concerns, acute trauma and panic attack. 

More than 600 service follow-up contacts have been delivered to help people in our community impacted by the floods connect to the right support services. 

Mobilising primary care volunteers 

Healthy North Coast quickly established a volunteer database to coordinate general practice and mental health volunteers, who generously gave their time to support the community. Nearly 100 clinical volunteers registered interest to support flood-impacted communities. Over 1,000 hours of support was delivered during this period and 304 referrals were made to extreme climatic events services, with 1,928 service contacts delivered between 1 March and 30 June 2022. 

Crisis communication and information

During the immediate emergency and the following recovery period, Healthy North Coast delivered critical communication regarding available primary health services to the community and primary care providers through digital marketing platforms, distribution of printed collateral and mainstream media. 

volunteers-flood-response

Mobile medical centre on the move 

The not-for-profit Street Side Medics partnered with Healthy North Coast to bring a mobile medical vehicle to Northern NSW to support the flood-impacted Northern Rivers community. 

Fully stocked with critical medical supplies and equipment, the Street Side Medics vehicle travelled to several different locations during its three-week operation in Northern NSW, helping to improve access to GP services in the areas of greatest need.  

Media release: Lismore doctors offering street side appointments

Primary care workforce support

‘Your (Healthy North Coast) team should take a moment to reflect on what you individually and collectively bring to the table – you don’t make a difference, you are the difference. All Northern Rivers clinics are fortunate in having your support and guidance.’

Establishment of Lismore Health Precinct  

Within weeks of the flood crisis, Healthy North Coast established the Lismore Health Precinct (LHP) at Southern Cross University Lismore Campus, giving nearly 30 flood-impacted primary care providers a new home to provide continuity of care to their patients. Otherwise displaced primary health services are operating from the free clinic spaces at the LHP,  which will remain in place until at least June 2024. Free consultation rooms for flood-impacted primary health care services are also available at Healthy North Coast’s Ballina office. 

Lismore’s busy Keen St Clinic was also badly damaged in the floods, but with Healthy North Coast’s support, the Keen St Clinic team established rapid temporary operations at the Southern Cross University Lismore campus, providing vital GP support at the emergency evacuation centre on site. Keen St Clinic has since re-opened newly restored and renovated premises.  

Community information about primary care service arrangements ​

Healthy North Coast also launched a new online directory of onsite primary care services at the Lismore Health Precinct so that community members could access provider information and make appointments directly. 

In addition, we established a separate online resource to update the community about operational arrangements for other primary care providers not at the LHP, but displaced or facing changed services due to flood impacts. Many providers took up the offer to post their arrangements on our website.  

‘I would like to convey my appreciation for the opportunity to join this service, and for the fantastic facilities.’

HealthPathways 

The Mid North Coast HealthPathways team updated disaster management pathways ‘Disaster Management Mental Health’ and Disaster Management General Practice Response’ to support health professionals during the flood emergency. The team also updated 180 referral pages, advising users to check the operational status of practices in flood affected areas.  

We are open​

Under the We Are Open initiative, Healthy North Coast offered financial support to general practices, Aboriginal medical services and pharmacies that opened outside regular business hours in flood-affected areas at short notice.  

Funding support for COVID-19 vaccine program  

Healthy North Coast provided funding to 17 general practices and pharmacies impacted by the floods. We used a two-tier system to determine the effect of the floods on COVID-19 vaccinations and how funding should be allocated. 

Extension of Healthy North Coast’s employee assistance program  

Our employee assistance program, AccessEAP, was extended to all of the local primary health workforce impacted by the floods, offering quick access to professional counselling for clinicians or practice staff.  

COVID-19 care is a high priority for our patients, and we have enquiries on a daily basis as to when we will be able to return to providing vaccinations. This funding will make all the difference in getting us back on track to vaccinating.

Identifying primary care workforce needs and preferred supports ​

In May 2022, Healthy North Coast asked local primary health practitioners how they were impacted by the floods, what they needed to get back on their feet and their preferences for support in future disasters and emergencies.  

0 %
services reported being impacted by the floods, estimating at least $12 million in flood damage. 
0 %
of responding services were concerned about staff wellbeing, burnout and fatigue.  
0 %
were concerned about the ability of health professionals to have a rest. 
practice-nurse

Workforce support and wellbeing program 

Following the survey, Healthy North Coast co-designed support initiatives in consultation with 15 local GPs, allied health professionals, nurses and practice managers over multiple meetings from May to August 2022. In 2022, the Workforce Support and Wellbeing package was released, with supports tailored for maximum benefit for primary health professionals. 

16 health care services in Lismore have accessed funding to support a temporary surge workforce for short-term emergency needs or to meet demand where practices cannot operate or GPs need respite.  

More than 40 primary care providers in the Northern Rivers have accessed funding through Healthy North Coast for clinical psychologists and non-clinical supports to help teams debrief and continue to meet workforce wellbeing needs during 2022-23.  

Around 600 primary care clinicians and their staff are benefitting from financial support for team-building activities to build wellbeing, resilience and team cohesion following extended pressure on the primary care sector.

The workforce support program enabled me to take my first holiday in two years! I was able to focus on rest and recovery, without having to worry about work.

Education and training to support community recovery 

More than 300 health professionals and primary health care front desk staff have undertaken disaster management education through Healthy North Coast clinical societies’ education events and other seminars to help community members dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

‘We deal with all age groups from diverse backgrounds. Many have been affected by flooding. We come across people who now, when it rains, become extremely anxious. [This training] could be helpful with identifying and helping these clients.’

2023 financial support for flood-damaged premises

Co-funded by the Australian Government and NSW Government through a new $5 million flood-recovery package, financial assistance is available to eligible primary health care services located in the Lismore Local Government Area (LGA) whose premises were impacted by the 2022 floods. Applications are open for grants offering assistance for expenses related to repair to flood-damaged buildings, fitouts, and equipment, and relocation to alternative premises within the Lismore LGA.

Community support and recovery

Establishment of Head to Health Hub  

The Lismore Head to Health Hub commenced operations on 28 March 2022 at the Lismore Primary Health Precinct, Southern Cross University, just four weeks after floods first devastated the region. The Hub is designed as a welcoming entry point for engagement, assessment and treatment for people experiencing distress or crisis. No referrals are needed and the Hub offers free mental health support in-person and through telehealth. Since its establishment, it has delivered 378 occasions of service to 196 clients.  

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Safe Havens for mental health support  

Healthy North Coast worked with the NSW Government to establish four Safe Haven community wellbeing and support hubs across the Northern Rivers offering free support, connection and counselling without referral or bookings. The Safe Havens are located at Lismore, Woodburn, Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah, with services being delivered by The Buttery. 

Commissioning for culturally-appropriate flood responses  

Healthy North Coast joined with Bullinah Aboriginal Health Service, Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation and Rekindling the Spirit to invite proposals from suitably qualified and experienced organisations to deliver the Northern NSW Strong Community Program. Eligible activities include provision of services; trauma-based programs; social and emotional wellbeing programs; education and early intervention, and connection to health and social supports.

Group of people interlinked arms

Building community resilience from the ground up  

Funded through the NSW Government’s three-year, $5 million flood recovery funding package, the Community Wellbeing and Resilience Flood Recovery program supports individuals and communities to recover from the impacts of natural disaster and build their capacity to face future challenges.  

A total of 12 northern NSW organisations have been funded to deliver a range of activities and programs to help communities connect, communicate, learn and support one another through the recovery process. 

Grassroots community-based recovery organisations including Resilient Lismore, Woolgoolga Neighbourhood Centre, Murwillumbah Community Recovery and Resilience project, and Wardell CORE are implementing wellbeing and support initiatives. A full list of funded programs is available here

Local mental health coordinators for flood-affected LGAs 

Healthy North Coast worked closely with the NNSWLHD to recruit 10 Health and Wellbeing Flood Recovery Navigators. The roles work across designated local government areas and provide direct place-based mental health and wellbeing linkages to existing clinical and nonclinical supports.  

Resilient Kids 

Funded through a $10 million grant from the National Emergency Management Agency and delivered by Healthy North Coast, the Resilient Kids program will deliver mental health and wellbeing supports for primary and secondary school-aged children across the Northern Rivers. 

In October and November 2022, 6671 children and young people from 75 schools completed the Resilience Survey, Australia’s most widely utilised mental health and wellbeing survey for schools. This was the largest group ever to complete the Resilience Survey, with the results  providing important data about the wellbeing of young people in our region and a baseline to track improvements over time.  

In early 2023, Healthy North Coast will invite service providers to tender for agreed initiatives under the Resilient Kids program, with support initiatives expected to rollout from mid-2023.  

Not used (templated stuff to follow)

Mobile medical centre on the move

The not-for-profit Street Side Medics partnered with Healthy North Coast to bring a mobile medical vehicle to Northern NSW to support the flood impacted Northern Rivers community.

Fully stocked with critical medical supplies and equipment, the Street Side Medics vehicle travelled to several different locations during its
three-week operation in Northern NSW, helping to improve access to GP services in the areas of greatest need.

Related media release: Lismore doctors offering street side appointments

Crisis communication and information

During the immediate emergency and the following recovery period, Healthy North Coast delivered critical communication regarding available primary health services to the community and primary care providers through digital marketing platforms, distribution of printed collateral and mainstream media. 

Digital health at the disaster frontline

With access to normal GP and primary care services disrupted, the Healthy North Coast-funded GP Telehealth service, established during the March 2021 Mid North Coast flood response, offered immediate support for the health needs of people in the worst-affected communities. It included free 24/7 GP consultations, prescriptions, and medical certificates. 

With more than more than 75% of Lismore general practices impacted by the 28 February flood, demand for Healthy North Coast’s GP Telehealth service leapt from a previous monthly average of about 300 consultations to more than 1,500 consultations in March. Following the 30 March flood, there were 1,056 telehealth consultations during April.  

Healthy North Coast established several key initiatives to support primary care providers who were extending their normal operations to help communities in need, or whose operations were disrupted by the flood emergency. 

Keen St Clinic

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We are open initiative

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Employee assistance program

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Lismore Health Precinct

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Lismore Health Precinct

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Group of people interlinked arms

Community information about primary care service arrangements 

Healthy North Coast also launched a new online directory of onsite primary care services at the Lismore Health Precinct so that community members could access provider information and make appointments directly. In addition, we established a separate online resource to update the community about operational arrangements for other primary care providers not at the LHP, but displaced or facing changed services due to flood impacts. Many providers took up the offer to post their arrangements on our website.  

We are open

Under the We Are Open initiative, Healthy North Coast offered financial support to XX general practices, Aboriginal medical services and pharmacies that opened outside regular business hours in flood-affected areas at short notice.  

Workforce wellbeing

The not-for-profit Street Side Medics partnered with Healthy North Coast to bring a mobile medical vehicle to Northern NSW to support the flood impacted Northern Rivers community.

Fully stocked with critical medical supplies and equipment, the Street Side Medics vehicle travelled to several different locations during its
three-week operation in Northern NSW, helping to improve access to GP services in the areas of greatest need.