July 2, 2012
The South Burnett’s RHealth office in Kingaroy will close and South Burnett healthy living programs cease in three months unless a review brings about a reversal in thinking from the State Government.
The not-for-profit primary health organisation’s Kingaroy, Chinchilla and Charleville programs were among 59 health projects from across Queensland named on Friday which will receive funding for just another three months while a review into their future is undertaken.
Funding for 67 projects was not renewed and will stop immediately; another 24 projects reliant on grants were given three months to wind up, including the Healthy Lifestyle Co-ordinator for the North Burnett.
The axe is falling as part of the State Government’s push to save money in face of a record Budget black hole.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said 303 grants were scheduled to expire on June 30; 119 of these services would be renewed at existing funding levels (the full list was released on Facebook).
Unfortunately for RHealth, which has been operating in the South Burnett for 12 years, their six positions have been listed “for review”, including the “Community Nutritionist” and “Healthy Lifestyle Program Co-Ordinator” roles based in Kingaroy.
RHealth Community Nutrition program officer Berneice Hilly told southburnett.com.au today she was stunned by the news.
“We face a review over the next couple of weeks before we know if we’re winding up or continuing,” she said.
Berneice – who has a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Public Health Nutrition and a Master of Public Health Nutrition – said RHealth had been working to reduce the burden of chronic disease in Queensland.
Locally they have run the “Good Food Choices” project in conjunction with local restaurants as well as “Lighten Up” and “Living Strong” programs.
Since the beginning of the year, they have held three “Diabetes Cookery – Cook for Life” courses at the local TAFE College.
“We’ve had some amazing outcomes from these,” Berneice said. “People are losing weight and getting healthier.”
RHealth has worked with the Burnett Inland Economic Development Organisation (BIEDO) on “Grow Cook Eat” workshops which have been heald throughout the South Burnett as part of the ‘Swap It, Don’t Stop It” healthy eating campaign.
The organisation has also worked with the South Burnett Regional Council to assist in the delivery of health promotion programs, including Community Kitchens, Heart Moves, Lift For Life and Active Parks.
“It’s taken five years to get some quality outcomes because it’s such a long process to change behaviour and be able to measure a result,” Berneice said.
“Change can take half a generation but RHealth has been set up to work with rural communities, address their unique needs, and form partnerships with local government to guide that change.”
The South Burnett Regional Council agrees.
SBRC General Manager Community and Economic Development Eleanor Sharpe said the loss of RHealth services would have a “critical impact” on the delivery of important community health initiatives that the council would otherwise be unable to carry out.
“They’re an integral part of council’s delivery of health programs and we’d simply be unable to do it if they weren’t around,” she said.
She said RHealth had been instrumental in council gaining a $700,000 grant from the Federal Government to run its Healthy Communities Program.
“They have partnered with council on a wide range of programs including Good Food Choices, the community gardens, Healthy Communities, Reading Bug and many others,” she said.
“Council has an extremely positive relationship with RHealth. And while I’m sympathetic to the State Government’s desire to rein in the Budget deficit, they may be unaware of the effect the withdrawal of a front line service such as this can have on the community and a small council like ours.
“There is absolutely nothing to replace RHealth.”
A media statement from RHealth release late this afternoon emphasised its benefits to the community:
“Over the past five years RHealth’s Program Officers have partnered with local governments, government departments, schools and community-based organisations to deliver over 100 successful programs to communities across the 420,599 sq km of south-west Queensland.
“A particular focus for RHealth has been building relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations to ensure appropriateness of service delivery and the inclusion of alcohol, smoking, nutrition and physical activity promotion.
“Should RHealth funding for these positions cease at the end of September, the future health of these rural and regional communities will be put at greater risk.
“With the prevalence of overweight and obesity increasing in rural communities, in particular in the South Burnett to 67.9 per cent, 59.9 per cent in the Northern Downs and 61.6 per cent and 65.9 per cent in Paroo and Murweh shires respectively, action is required now to reduce the epidemic of chronic disease into the future.
“Long-term commitment and investment is required to see how effectively these programs can reduce hospitalisation and the social and economic costs of overweight and obesity.
“RHealth has developed and maintained a cost effective and successful service delivery model over the past five years, and is hopeful of a favourable outcome to the review process.”
Ironically, the State Government also seems to recognise the value of RHealth, or at least of its president Dr Ross Hetherington, who was last week appointed to the new Darling Downs Hospital and Health Board.