Sunrise Sites

 

The Health Service Setting

Population and Service Delivery setting

Sunrise Health Service’s Head Office is located in the centre of Katherine.  The town office is where the Corporate Services staff (including Finance, Human Resources, Assets, Corporate Services, Community Development, IT and Communications) are based.  Additionally, the Primary Health Care Manager, Program Coordinators, Medical Director and Claims Coordinator are based in town.

Primary Health Care services are delivered from nine health Centres located east of Katherine, along what is known as the ‘Top Road’ (the Arnhem Highway), and the ‘Bottom Road’ (the Roper Highway). 

Top Road communities serviced include Werenbun, Manyallaluk, Barunga, Wugularr, Bulman and Weemol. 

Bottom Road communities serviced include Mataranka, Jilkminggan, Minyerri, Kewulyi, Ngukurr, Urapunga, Badawarrka and Wubalawun.

The communities where health centres operate have permanent population groups ranging from 20 to more than 1000 people.  The majority of communities are traditionally oriented Aboriginal communities, although the township of Mataranka is an open Northern Territory town with a population base of 500 non-Indigenous and 130 Indigenous people.  Additionally, there are also a number of pastoral properties with a non-Indigenous population of 100-200 people who also assess the services of the community health centres. 

In addition to the permanent populations, a number of locations are also frequented by tourists and/or recreational fishermen who from time to time require the services of the community health centres.  Furthermore, certain locations, often away from community settings, sometimes see temporary large influxes of people as traditional ceremonies take place.

Overall, there are around 3500 regular clients who utilise Sunrise Health Service.

Social Setting

The region covered by Sunrise Health Service primarily comprises Aboriginal communities and pastoral stations.  Ten principal language groups are represented, and Kriol is the lingua franca of the region, with English generally being spoken as a second or third language if at all. 

Literacy is very low, with very few people having attained educational outcomes higher than primary school level. 

These things have enormous implications for the way communication must occur at every level – from the way health staff obtain and impart information to patients, to the way essential financial and governance information is communicated during Board and Community Health Committee meetings, to the way government departments and other stakeholders interface with the communities.

Family and kinship obligations are paramount in the lives of most residents of the region.  Traditional systems of social and economic organisation prevail, as do traditional knowledge and beliefs.  This includes understanding, attitudes and practices about illness and health, which are often very different to those of non-Indigenous health systems. 

Physical Setting

The region covered by Sunrise Health Service is sub-tropical, and covers approximately 75,000 square kilometres.  There is road access to all communities (much of it unsealed), and air access to most.  The surrounding environment is typical to many remote parts of Australia where services are often interrupted because of poor communication/transport links, and the sub-tropical environment itself.

The climate has an enormous influence on the health service for two reasons.  It has significant implications on the type of diseases prevalent in the area and, depending on the time of the year, has implications on the level and quality of health services that can be delivered on the ground.

There is a hot and humid, and sometimes physically uncomfortable ‘build-up’ period for about three months of the year, from August to November, until the monsoon comes down from the north and drenches the landscape from December through to March.  This season is known as ‘the wet’, and during this time some roads are impassable and airstrips unusable for various periods of time.  The communities of Ngukurr, Urapunga and Minyerri are often isolated for up to a month whereas communities like Wugularr and Jilkminggan are regularly flooded.

The ‘wet season’ is followed by six months where almost no rain falls at all.  The ‘dry season’ becomes an intense work period during which the greatest amount of health service outreach activity can take place.

Health Profile

Few Australians are aware of the extent of the ongoing crisis in Indigenous health or realise that the health of Indigenous Australians is on par with, or worse than the populations of many developing countries.

As a whole, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations throughout Australia have much poorer health than non-Indigenous Australians.  Infant mortality rates are twice as high, the instances of low birth weight are twice as high, and 30-80 per cent of Indigenous school-aged children suffer significant hearing loss as a result of preventable chronic ear infections.

The effects of early life last a lifetime, with the important foundations of adult health being laid before birth and in early childhood.  Poor social and economic circumstances, or poor nutrition of mother or child, can lead to slow growth of the child.  This in turn is associated with heart, respiratory and kidney disease and other chronic health problems in adult life. 

Poor nutrition and physical development affect mental development, and combined with poverty, can mean reduced readiness for school and poor educational attainment – and so a higher risk of unemployment or work in low-status, low-control jobs in adult life.

The Sunrise Health Service region is characterised by a high disease load, however since Sunrise Health Service took over the provision of primary health care services and other educational programs, the situation in most communities is improving.

However, issues such as adult chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease and renal health problems are often seen in community members.  Additionally, childhood health problems such as anaemia and aural health problems are significant.  There are also problems associated with alcohol abuse and petrol sniffing in some communities.

However, with a strong emphasis on self-governance and a holistic approach to service delivery, the situation is slowly improving. 

 

Please note, Northern Land Council Permits are required for entry on to all Aboriginal Land including Sunrise Health Service Member Communities.