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Closing the Gap with SWAMS, part 3: Hayley

Bonnie Savage/OxfamAUS

In the third instalment of our SWAMS interview series, Aboriginal health worker Hayley Nelson talks about how she wins the trust of her clients, and how she strives to ensure their experience of the healthcare system is as smooth, straightforward and stress-free as possible.

Can you tell me where you are from?
Hayley: I’m from Merredin in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.

What kind of work do you do here?
Hayley: I’m an Aboriginal health worker. I do breast screenings; I’m interested in chronic illness. I helped organise International Women’s Day which is a big celebration for women — 100 years this year.
I’m on the allied health team … I go around and talk to clients about their T-cells, blood pressure, take their weight, see if they need extra services. Just to check how they are travelling and make sure everything is fine with them.

What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in Aboriginal healthcare?
Hayley: Women do their follow-ups more; they’re interested in seeing the diabetic educator, the physiotherapist and the occupational therapist, which is good. They’ll come see the doctors and they are not scared to ask about themselves or get a second opinion if they need it.
Women are more open, but I think that it’s because we try to give them a lot of information about different health issues. And I always say to them: if you can’t look after yourself first, you can’t look after anyone else because you’re the main caregiver … so come and get your health check done and make sure everything’s alright with you.

Healthcare worker Hayley Nelson at SWAMS clinic at St John Of God Hospital, Bunbury, WA. PHOTO: Bonnie Savage/OxfamAus

Can you describe your relationship with the people you work with?
Hayley: You’ve got to build a bond with them [clients] so they can trust you. You’ve got to be reliable and if you say you’re going to do things for them, like pick up the medication or take them to an appointment, you’ve got to really be there for them and not let them down. Or else you lose that trust.

What are some of the health issues you work with in Aboriginal communities?
Hayley: I’m finding there’s a lot of cardiovascular disease out there at the moment … because of smoking or maybe they’ve had rheumatic fever. In Bunbury … there have been four clients who have actually had heart disease because of rheumatic fever. So, it’s childhood illnesses that have affected them today.

There is a lot of diabetes because of poor diets and smoking. And not enough exercise.

What happens when Aboriginal people can’t access their health checks?
Hayley: If they don’t get checked their quality of life will go down … they aren’t aware of what’s going on in their bodies. They should go and have these checks regularly: to take care of themselves, and not be scared. We make them [clients] feel as comfortable as possible … and say, if you are not comfortable with the doctor, we can come into the appointment with you, and translate it a bit. Sometimes they don’t understand the physicians’ jargon, so it’s good to have a health worker there.

Next week: in our final SWAMS interview, Aboriginal health worker Clem discusses the importance of community in Closing the Gap.