Aboriginal community urged to keep up with regular medical appointments and get tested for COVID-19

Raylene Gordon, CEO of the Awabakal Aboriginal Medical Service in Newcastle, is originally from Moree and urges community members to keep up with their medical appointments. Photo: supplied
Raylene Gordon, CEO of the Awabakal Aboriginal Medical Service in Newcastle, is originally from Moree and urges community members to keep up with their medical appointments. Photo: supplied

Keeping up with medical appointments is more important now than ever, with Aboriginal health professionals urging community members to stay in touch with their healthcare providers and get tested if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.

Raylene Gordon, CEO of the Awabakal Aboriginal Medical Service in Newcastle, is originally from Moree and encourages the local Indigenous community, particularly Aboriginal people over 50 or those with a chronic health condition, to keep attending their medical appointments and talk to health care professionals during this difficult time.

"It's particularly important during this period that we all continue to stay in touch with our healthcare providers about any concerns we might have about our health," she said.

"There are many challenges we face during this period, so if you do have any concerns about your health, your doctor is best placed to answer those questions.

"It's safe to seek help now - your hospital and local medical services are taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19. You're not a burden on the healthcare system, so don't wait until things get worse."

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Ms Gordon said many Local Health Districts and Aboriginal Medical Services have developed new ways to support patients to look after their health, while staying safe.

"Health services have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing telehealth services, by doing home visiting services and by having phone consultations with your GP to discuss any concerns," she said.

"We are having to respond differently during this period to keep people and communities safe. Some of this involves social distancing, personal protective equipment, temperature checks, and phone consultations.

"It's important we have these strategies in place so that we keep our communities safe."

Ms Gordon and her team are encouraging the whole community to look after their health and wellbeing during this time, noting many people may be living with increased stress and anxiety.

"People can stay healthy during this period by staying connected with family and friends, by exercising, and by seeing a GP if they have any concerns about their health," she said.

"If you're feeling stressed during this period, please reach out to family and friends or if you're particularly concerned, reach out to your health provider and arrange a referral to a specialist."

Fellow Aboriginal health professional, Worimi man Dr Kelvin Kong, who has worked in Moree, has also leant his voice to help Aboriginal communities protect themselves during this time.

Worimi man Dr Kelvin Kong, who has worked in Moree, encourages the Aboriginal community to get tested if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. Photo: supplied

Worimi man Dr Kelvin Kong, who has worked in Moree, encourages the Aboriginal community to get tested if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. Photo: supplied

Dr Kong encourages members of the community to get tested if they have any concerns about COVID-19 symptoms.

"It's important we detect any cases in our community early by getting tested if you have even minor symptoms," he said.

"Don't be afraid of the people who are taking the tests, because they're going to be in protective gear. It's to help keep us all safe from the spread."

Testing is available to all members of the community, for free. Aboriginal communities can contact their local Aboriginal Medical Service or Local Area Health District for information on where to access the test in their area.

"The type of test you get might vary depending on where you live and where you go to get tested. You might be tested at the hospital, you might be at a GP practice, or it might be in a drive-through testing location," says Dr Kong.

Dr Kong acknowledges that some members of the community might be worried about getting the test, not knowing what is involved.

"The test is relatively straightforward and simple," he explained.

"It's not painful at all but can be uncomfortable. The common test involves a nasal swab, which is like a big cotton bud. A swab is taken from inside your nose. It might make you want to sneeze, but it's over before you even realise that they've actually started. It's really very quick."

Dr Kong also stressed the importance of self-isolating if you are tested for COVID-19.

"This can be a really difficult thing for many families. For our mob there can be extra barriers," he said.

"Sometimes, it's really hard because we don't have the space to actually self-isolate, but when you can, and if you can, it's important to be in your own room. If you do have to be in the same room as someone, wear a mask.

"If you're going to be getting food, make sure that you're getting it alone. Wipe down surfaces, don't interact with other people. It's better if people can place food at your door."

For the latest information, including resources for Aboriginal communities and health care workers visit nsw.gov.au.