Collaboration between Communities and Health provides real benefits to tenants

Who's operating in silos? Well, we're not!

Who would've thought a change to regulations about who can get their hands on a tap spindle could usher in an exciting new collaboration between agencies?

Well, Aboriginal Housing Services (AHS) and Aboriginal Environmental Health (AEH) did – and it's now having positive impacts in remote Aboriginal communities.

Environmental Health Worker Clare Crowther from Meta Maya, Port Hedland
Environmental Health Worker Clare Crowther from Meta Maya, Port Hedland

Amendments to Plumbing Regulations now allow qualified Environmental Health Workers to undertake some plumbing tasks, if issues are identified during their usual work in remote communities.

AEH has already demonstrated the enormous benefits of their workers having the capacity to repair water leaks and cap burst water lines. One self-managed community's water consumption has been reduced by 90% (measured by the Water Corporation). This outcome was achieved by a plumber working with trainees, and was part of the reason this change was rolled out across the remote communities we manage.

AEH Trainees
The AEH Trainees take a well-earned (photo) break 

A/Manager, Aboriginal Housing Services, Melanie Jones, said, "With environmental health workers servicing all remote communities managed by the Department, AHS is pleased that this will help further reduce water wastage.

"As the two agencies worked to determine how the change to regulations could be implemented across the Department of Communities-managed communities, it became evident that a healthy environment and a healthy home were one and the same. Protocols and maintenance duplication safeguards were developed, and a growing sense of commonality and cooperation emerged," she said.

Drainage work
It's draining work but it's got to be done 

An example of collaboration includes the Department making some vacant properties in Port Hedland available to AEH for staff training.

Mr Greg McConkey, Empower Education, acknowledged the generous support of South Hedland Area Manager Shez Kimber and Departmental staff, stating "it was a huge help having properties available to provide realistic training scenarios for the trainees."

From now on AEH workers will also instruct housing officers on what they need to be aware of when inspecting properties to ensure healthy living conditions.

There is also cooperation in implementing a "Safe Bathroom Assessment", an initiative to tackle the scourge of Trachoma.

According to the World Health Organization and other international websites, Australia is the only high-income country where this eye disease exists. It is caused by a contagious bacterium which only persists in remote indigenous communities, having been eliminated from the rest of the country 100 years ago.

The disease is easily transmitted from one child to another in overcrowded conditions. It can cause ongoing scarring of the eyelid, and, if left untreated, it can lead to blindness. The bacterium's transmission relies on poor hygience and dirty faces - so bathrooms that don't provide a safe environment for people to wash themselves allow this disease to continue.

Environmental Health Worker Derek Councillor from Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation, Geraldton
Environmental Health Worker Derek Councillor from Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation, Geraldton

The Safe Bathroom initiative involves auditing bathrooms, and where issues that may prevent good hygiene are identified, they are either remedied immediately or reported to AHS mai​ntenance for repair or upgrade.

"Enabling environmental health workers to clear blocked waste pipes, unblock toilets and sinks, and cap leaking waste outlets can ensure unsanitary conditions are dealt with immediately rather than having to wait for a licensed plumber," Melanie said.

This is a fantastic example of the benefit of cross-agency collaboration to create positive outcomes.

"We look forward to increased collaboration between the two agencies to increase their knowledge about the connection between housing maintenance and family and community environmental health."