Time to Nominate Community Champions for Australian of the Year

Published on:
Monday, 3 July, 2023

Palliative Care Research Professor at UWA and Perron Institute Samar Aoun is encouraging communities and their Local Governments, to adopt a compassionate communities approach so they are better prepared to support people who are caring, dying, or grieving.

Research shows that only 5 per cent of a dying person’s time is spent with a health professional, while the other 95 per cent is spent with friends, families, colleagues, pets – their community. Sometimes alone.

Upskilling communities to support people at this time is necessary to build social connectedness and reduce isolation.

Prof Aoun, who was named 2023 WA Australian of the Year for her work in palliative care, chairs the South West Compassionate Communities Network and has researched this approach with the WA Country Health Service.

In a pilot program, 20 volunteers were trained to become Compassionate Communities Connectors, to help connect 43 families with people in their local communities.

The families’ social networks grew so that they had people helping with activities such as mowing the lawn, taking them to appointments and simply chatting over a cuppa.

In addition, there were savings to the health system in terms of reduced hospital admissions and length of stay.

Following the trial, Prof Aoun has worked with community groups and the Local Government in Bunbury, where she has lived since moving to Australia 30 years ago, to develop a Compassionate City Charter.

The Charter guides and encourages individual consumers, service providers, businesses, schools, community groups and clubs, to work together to create a more compassionate Bunbury.

A Bunbury, that is resilient, responsive and understands the need for community support to get through difficult times.

All LGAs are encouraged to develop a compassionate charter and leverage off the work done so far.

For the Compassionate Connectors Program to be rolled out, communities need to be prepared and the charter can aid in this.

Prof Aoun is motivated by her own experience when she was grieving for her father, which she has said went unacknowledged by her former colleagues, simply because people do not know what to say or do in these circumstances.

“We need to bear in mind that social isolation or loneliness is going to be the biggest killer for our aging population, and we’re all going that way if we don’t start thinking in a more socially connected way,” she said.

“Death, dying, grief and loss belong to the community – they are not medical events, but social events.
“We need to encourage those who are experiencing these events to ask for help. In this way they are up-skilling the community to help them and benefiting others in the same situation.

“It’s about building the capacity of the community to help each other – Local Governments have an important role in achieving this.”

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