In honour of NAIDOC Week 2021, we caught up with Annette Gaulton – or Netty – from our very own Wadja Aboriginal Family Place. Netty takes us through a day in the life of an Aboriginal Case Manager and the significant impacts she has on the lives of the families she provides care for.
Tell us about your role? What does a typical day look like for you?
I am an Aboriginal Case Manager, primarily working on the RCH dedicated cardiac unit – Koala. I have been at the RCH for seven years now, and six of these I have spent on Koala and in cardiology clinics.
My day usually begins by checking in with patients and families from the night or weekend before. I’ll have a yarn to the staff and ask how the families have been overnight, before I follow up with my outpatients. I usually visit my patients three times a day as things tend to change quite quickly.
My role is really about relationships – relationships with families, with staff, and with community. When it comes to families, a lot have come from remote communities and do not have warm clothes or shoes. I make sure they are fed, they are well clothed, they are warm and most importantly, I ensure they understand what the nursing staff are actually saying to them. I don’t want them to agree and nod along to just anything simply because they are feeling nervous. My role is to help the families trust the staff here so that when I am not present, they can still engage with them.
Hospital is scary for Aboriginal people, especially a children’s hospital given their history with the stolen generation, so we want their relationship to be good and positive. When families see my interactions with nurses and other staff members, they know they can relax. This is why it is so important for me to take the time to build strong relationships with staff – so that my people can too trust them.
Essentially, the role is about building relationships for the bigger picture. We are a community that has the highest rate of rheumatic heart disease in the entire world, so it is also really important to work with communities to help build their education and knowledge.
How did you end up in this field?
I had never worked in healthcare before starting at the RCH, or in any Aboriginal organisation for that matter. I have had to learn a lot from scratch about how to best support our families in this kind of hospital environment. When you drive past the RCH, you know there are people inside helping kids. You just don’t think of all the other roles that people do here. Our number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families visiting hospital each year is increasing, which reinforces their trust for us and the services we have here.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It is really rewarding to regularly interact with patients and have them call out to me and recognise who I am. They will call out “tidda” which means sister – I taught them this and continue to teach them many other things. It is the sense of recognition for the work we do because it is more than just work, it is relationships and friendship building. It is like therapy for me!
Koala has a unique atmosphere where everyone working, no matter what their role, is inclusive and respectful. We all have the same primary goal – that Aboriginal children are entitled to the same health benefits as anybody else, and we are all working together to achieve this. My people love humour and so we try to bring this to the kids in order to lift their spirits, and that is what I love about it. Cardiac issues are a huge problem in my people, and it is rewarding to feel like I have been a part of a healing process.
But honestly, the greatest part of my job is when the patients leave – this means they are well and good and are able to go home. I touch base with them when they arrive home to their community to check in, and even after we lose contact, I know they have been in great hands.
What is your message for parents, carers and young people on celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture all year round, not just during NAIDOC Week?
NAIDOC Week this year is a bit different because this one includes every Australian getting involved. ‘Healing Country’ requires everyone to respect the beautiful land as it takes all of us to work together to heal, that is all the cultures and communities. For Aboriginals, each place that we come from is called a Country. While I am from a different Country, I have been given a wonderful opportunity during my time on this land – my job is filled with amazing people which I get to celebrate on a land that belongs to someone else.
COVID-19 has been a challenging time for the land, faced with so much trauma and damage in such a short time. Now it is all about healing the land for us to continue to live on it. We must not take more than what we need, and we must replace what we take. Everyone is going about their daily lives and jobs, and we can only get through this process if we help each other every day to heal together.
Another thing we can do regularly is recognise when we are burning out for our own soul restoration. Take part in something that makes you heal. For me, I will take the time to go home to my Country and do a smoke ceremony to connect with my community. It is important to communicate, and if we all sat down and took an hour to listen to someone else’s story, I think we would be in a special place. So my message would be, check in and have a yarn – it’s good for your soul and it’s good for your mental health.