Volunteers play an incredibly important role, particularly within the health system. But a number of people are using their dedication, passion and innovative skills, to make significant improvements to the health of all Victorians.
Traditionally, volunteering has been associated with collecting money in a tin, serving tea and coffee, or helping out in the local op shop. While any form of volunteering is valuable, today’s volunteers are proving to be dynamic, forward-thinkers, who undertake innovative approaches to their work.
Innovators: a new type of volunteer
This year, as part of the Minister for Health Volunteer Awards, a new honour was created: ‘Outstanding Achievement by a Volunteer — The Better Care Victoria Innovation Award’. This award acknowledges an outstanding achievement by an individual volunteer or a team for their innovation within the role, or the way they have chosen to conduct it.
Better Care Victoria (BCV) recognises that innovation plays a key role in supporting the state’s health care reform agenda, and meeting the increasing pressures on the health system. By supporting innovative practice across Victoria’s health system, BCV aims to ensure timely and appropriate access to the highest quality care for all Victorians.
The BCV Innovation Award shows that innovators are everywhere, particularly among those volunteering within Victoria’s health system.
Committed to making a difference
Susan Brunton, BCV Consumer Advisory Committee member and judge of the awards, says all volunteers, regardless of what they do, play an incredibly important role and should be acknowledged for their contribution.
However, she is particularly excited about the level of innovation, and achievements shown by this year’s innovation award winners.
“I’m thrilled to see the level of persistence and engagement that these volunteers demonstrated,” she says. “What they are doing and the level of success they have had working in the health system, is extraordinary.”
BCV Board member and fellow judge Dr Bronwyn Morkham agrees.
“What really stood out to me was their absolute commitment and willingness to make things better for other people. All of them went above and beyond, to continue giving,” she says.
While all the winners used different skillsets in their roles of volunteering, Brian Catchpole, Steven Taylor, and the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance Community Advisory Group have really made a difference to the health-scape of Victoria.
Influencing genomic medicine
One group of volunteers who are true pioneers in their field is the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance Community Advisory Group
(MGHACAC). One of the world’s first community-based groups to advise major clinical implementation initiative in genomics, MGHACAC has led the way in ensuring community perspectives have been taken into account.
Community Advisory Group Chair Jane Bell says the award is a wonderful affirmation and validation of the tireless effort from all group members—many of whom have children with genetic issues—and their contributions to the field of genomics.
“We’re a patient-connected, grassroots group of individuals, with a variety of skills, knowledge and networks. Yet we all have a clear idea on what we want to achieve, and we go about doing that with passion and commitment—all in our own time,” says Jane.
Formed within weeks of the founding of the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance (MGHA), these volunteers have contributed as public speakers, actively influenced government policy, advocated for patients, directly influenced genomic research, and increased connections to benefit the work of MGHA.
The MGHA model is now being adopted nationally and internationally.
Removing the stigma of hepatitis
Patients who have dealt with a hepatitis diagnosis often don’t wish to talk about it. However, social worker and volunteer at Hepatitis Victoria
, Steven Taylor has used his experience of living with hepatitis C to help others in their journey.
Steven, who’s also a haemophiliac, was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1994 at the age of 14. He contracted the virus during a blood transfusion during the late 80s or early 90s, before blood screening was introduced.
“At the time of diagnosis, there was very little support or information offered to me, and I grew up feeling very isolated,” he says. “There was, and still, is a lot of stigma associated with hepatitis C, which can often prevent people from seeking treatment.”
Steven lived with the virus for more than 10 years, before being effectively treated with Interferon and ribavirin, which cleared him of the virus in 2006.
Steven’s work at Hepatitis Victoria has included over-the-phone support, and community advocacy for hepatitis. Using his art and film production skills, he produced a short film, titled C The Change
, which highlights his personal story, and challenges the stigma and discrimination of viral hepatitis.
This multimedia education tool raises awareness about viral hepatitis, and helps dispel myths and misinformation that exist around it. Steven produced this film outside of his designated volunteer hours.
Helping those living with disability
Even with the many support and aids available for the disabled, Brian Catchpole says the health system can’t always cater to the individual needs of everyone.
“It’s a bit like a blunt instrument,” Brian says. “It can’t penetrate and meet the particular needs of every individual. However, volunteers can provide that sharp edge by focusing on small things that make a big difference.”
Brian has been making a big difference to people with a disability for 41 years. A founding member of Solve Disability Solutions
, Brian originally volunteered in his 40s while working full-time. Since then, he has utilised his engineering skills to make life easier for the disabled.
“Back in the 1970s, there were very few appliances available to help the disabled, and so there was a real need to be innovative and inventive. I found though, that it was often the small things, that had the biggest power to change lives,” he says.
Through his innovative approach, Brian has allowed countless people to be more independent, and to enjoy more opportunities to participate in work and the community. Despite being well into his 80s, Brian continues to actively advocate for and assist those, who live with a disability.
A satisfying and rewarding endeavour
Each of the award-winners are from different walks of life, use different skills, and volunteer in a variety of health settings. The one thing they all have in common, however, is their desire to improve patient access, experience and outcomes to all utilising the health system.
Through their hard work and innovative approaches, they are making significant improvements to the health of all Victorians. And they all agree that making a difference through volunteering is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding way to do so.
(Top of page: Brian Catchpole, Solve Disability Solutions)
(Above) Steven Taylor, Hepatitis Victoria
(Above) Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance Community Advisory Group