St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney and St Vincent’s Clinic play active role in supporting Asylum Seeker Centre
St Vincent’s Health Australia reaches out to some of the most vulnerable people in the Australian community, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, such as refugees and asylum seekers.
St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney and St Vincent’s Clinic have been providing support to the Asylum Seeker Centre for more than 12 years. Located in the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown, the Asylum Seeker Centre welcomes asylum seekers and gives them a dignified, meaningful and safe existence pending the resolution of their claims.
Their clients come from over 52 countries in search of safety, protection and freedom. During 2012-13, they assisted almost 1,000 asylum seekers, with the majority of new clients coming from Iran, followed by Egypt, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. Of those clients, 45 per cent are homeless when they arrive, 50 per cent have no work rights and 70 per cent receive absolutely no government support.
The Asylum Seeker Centre provides a wide range of services, support and opportunities to ease their transition to Australia. One such program is medical specialist support. St Vincent’s Clinic has been facilitating specialist medical consultations for asylum seekers since 2002.
The centre will contact the clinic, which will then liaise with medical consultants of the appropriate specialty to arrange an appointment. The consultation is carried out pro-bono by the medical consultant.
Another important service is the centre’s primary health education program, which was established in 2012. The aim of the program is to give asylum seekers greater awareness of their own health issues. The sessions cover topics such as nutrition, kidney health, food safety, oral health, healthy heart, diabetes, women’s health and men’s health.
The centre also carries out a health assessment on all new asylum seekers who cannot access Medicare. To add value to these health assessments, Sydpath – a Sydney pathology provider – provides pathology services for to up to 10 clients a month, including a range of blood tests covering liver function, blood glucose and cholesterol levels and tests for the the presence of hepatitis B.
The employment program is another important service offered by the centre. Many asylum seekers have no transferable skills or their qualifications are not recognised in Australia. The program helps applicants prepare resumes and job applications and coaches them on interview techniques as well as an introduction to the Australian workplace and what is expected of an employee.
St Vincent’s Private Sydney has employed a number of staff who have been referred from the program – two seekers are permanently employed in the food services production kitchen and four are casual employees in the distribution department. Numerous refugees have gained employment in the wider community after attending talks at the centre.
The Asylum Seeker Centre also runs a weekly lunch program Monday through Thursday. For many asylum seekers it is their only hot meal of the day. The program is provided by volunteers from a number of organisations.
Since October 2014, St Vincent’s Private has provided lunch to asylum seekers; the volunteers comprise of executive and front line staff from both clinical and non-clinical services. After identifying that many clients do not have very good nutritional awareness, specifically with Western-style food, the centre commenced a nutritional support program. Dieticians from the hospital provide targeted education to asylum seekers on food choices, cooking and food procurement in the Australian context.
They also identified that there are an increasing number of diabetics who have limited access to dietetic support. The hospital sees these people on a one-on-one basis when needed to offer nutritional education.
A weekly food bank for asylum seekers provides both perishable and non-perishable food. In addition, the hospital runs two food drives a year where staff donate targeted supplies in February and June each year.
By Sarah Coleman, Adjunct Prof Jose Aguilera OAM, and Prof Kim Walker