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Caring for my dad in a rural area

Written by Susanne Tegen – CEO of The National Rural Health Alliance

  • 27 June 2024
  • Number of views: 204
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Caring for my dad in a rural area

1. What is the experience of rural families broadly in relation to accessing health and aged care services and what role does the National Rural Health Alliance play in supporting and advocating for rural services?

Rural people often have to do without. More than 7 million people live outside of urban Australia. What people often do not realise, is that 1 in 3 (34%) older Australians (aged 65 and over) live in rural and remote areas of Australia. However, only 1 in 5 (22% or 13,400) older Australians who live in remote or very remote areas, receive assistance from aged care home support programs.

The experience of rural families in relation to accessing health and aged care services is mixed; in some ways perfect, in other ways terribly lacking and isolating. Healthy Ageing is a goal for most, and being able to age at home an even bigger priority. Unfortunately with a severe lack of services in rural, inflexible funding models, retraining and training of workforce, lack of investment in infrastructure, high costs and the tyranny of distance often ends up in people who could age well at home receiving less than optimal care.

Feeling isolated, ending up in a dementia hospital bed as that is all there is, or feeling that they are a burden to family, or losing their independence, are all common outcomes for people who have often added value to society and economy and deserve equitable services.

The National Rural Health Alliance (The Alliance) advocates to federal and state government, raises awareness amongst other methods stakeholders, develops policy and seeks partnerships that increases awareness, structural and policy change,  access and funding. The Alliance is the peak body for rural, regional and remote health in Australia, comprising 51 Members, and our vision is for healthy and sustainable rural, remote and regional (hereafter rural) communities across Australia. We are focused on advancing rural health reform to achieve equitable health outcomes for rural communities.

Our members include health consumers, healthcare professionals, service providers, health and medical educators, researchers, researchers, medical and health practitioner students and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector. In addition, the Friends of the Alliance are a diverse group of people comprising rural consumer individuals and state or local organisations from which the Alliance draws input on rural and remote health services, policies and programs.

2. What was it like for you as the primary carer for your dad accessing services in a rural area?

At the time I had young children, living on a farm, working off and on farm, had a role as CE in medical and healthcare and having the tyranny of distance, I look back now and think "how did I do it?" I think one just does, and doesn't really think about it. It takes quite some time to find the services a parent might need. My father had cancer and dementia. There is the medical care, the mental health, the respite when I had to work or take my son to sport interstate.
 

3. How did the rural community help to support you and your dad?

I found that rural communities are incredibly kind and caring. People know each other and entities don't tend to be able to hide behind institutions. When there wasn't a place for him to go to, while I had to work, the local hospital allowed me to bring my father to the Aged Care group sessions. The thing is that, there just aren't the service choices that one might have in the city, or the family networks. So, one just improvises and is flexible, and, I think that is one thing rural communities are really good at. 

 

4. How could CarerHelp be of benefit for rural carers?

Navigating the health and aged care system is really difficult for those who know, and even more difficult to understand and navigate for those who don't. So, CarerHelp can help by raising awareness of what one's rights are, where you can ask for help, what you can ask for, how the health system works on a state and federal level, and what help you might be able to access. Of course it is also good to know one is not alone and can have help. By knowing these things, one feels a little bit more in control of being able to care for the person one loves. 

CarerHelp, can also raise the awareness of the difficulties of caring, the need to have your own down time, to do the things people enjoy doing and not to drop those. You aren't alone.

It is difficult to be placed into such a situation, but there are also really beautiful times. It was a time where my children had the time to understand my father from fit and active, to vulnerable and yet, still affectionate. I couldn't imagine, not caring for a parent or partner, no matter what the challenge. 

Authors:

Susanne Tegen, CEO of The National Rural Health Alliance

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