Maari Ma: caring for Far West NSW

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Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation covers almost a third of NSW– from Euston in the south, to Tibooburra in the north. It has over 100 staff and works in with the Far West Area Health Service to deliver its programs to such a vast area.

Maari Ma is a progressive organisation, and very active in relation to chronic disease management. It’s an Aboriginal community controlled health organisation dedicated to improving the health outcomes for communities in the far west region of NSW. It was established in1995, following extensive community consultation conducted on behalf of the Murdi Paaki ATSIC Regional Council.

Maari Ma is governed by an all Aboriginal Board of Directors, each drawn from the seven communities in the region: Broken Hill, Ivanhoe, Balranald, Menindee, Wilcannia, Wentworth Shires and Tibooburra.

Regional Primary Health Services manager Lesley Woolf says Maari Ma delivers services to the whole community both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and works closely with mainstream agencies to provide access to a broad range of services.

“It is a very large area, so we have a unique agreement with the Far West Health Service. The facilities in Tibooburra, Wilcannia, White cliffs, Ivanhoe, Menindee, Balranald – are managed by an Area Manager. They are Far West facilities but we manage them,” she says.

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Lesley says Maari Ma takes a “whole of life approach” to care, with an active maternity, midwife and ante-natal program as well as a Healthy Start (0-5 year-olds) Program that covers immunisation and regular health checks, including a children’s dental team. There are also health promotion teams that go into the schools and provide diet and nutrition information.

“We also have primary health services in Wilcannia and Broken Hill. Wilcannia and Menindee have the biggest Aboriginal population so we provide outreach services there including: GP’s, dieticians, dental teams, Drug and Alcohol teams, and quitting smoking teams. There are also outreach services to Ivanhoe, which is more isolated but has a significant Indigenous population.”

“We target the whole of life. We also carry out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments for an early indication of disease. This provides an opportunity to screen people who maybe wouldn’t otherwise be screened and detect early, and manage effectively, patients who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease,” she says.

There is a high incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and all chronic diseases in the Broken Hill area, which is consistent with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health problems nationally.

Since incorporation, Maari Ma has built strong local strategic partnerships with the Greater Western Area Health Service, Sydney University Department of Rural Health and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

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