Community health services are critical to improving the health and well-being of all people, without prejudice.

In particular, their understanding of the unique needs and challenges of local communities means community health services are well-placed to respond through targeted programs and services.

This is particularly the case in areas where intersectional disadvantage may be evident – taking into account the social, physical and economic conditions that impact upon health.

Here's where you can read our priorities for the 2022 Federal and State government elections.

At Bendigo Community Health Services, we take a person-centred approach – partnering with our clients on their healthcare journey and ensuring they are an active participant when it comes to planning their healthcare needs.

We focus on the person and their strengths, factoring in their life experience and understanding they are the expert in their own lives.

Our programs and services are broad, reflecting the diverse needs of our community.

They include (and are not limited to) alcohol and other drugs counselling and withdrawal services, chronic disease management, sexual health, community education, mental health counselling and programs, exercise physiology, health promotion, refugee settlement, a needle syringe program, physiotherapy, workplace education and youth services.

We know we play a critical role in helping people lead healthier lives, which also reduces the pressure on our public hospitals and the broader public health care system.

Equally, it is important for us to advocate on behalf of the many and diverse communities we work with, to effect systemic change that will lead to more positive outcomes for all.

We are committed to amplifying the voices of the people we work with, to ensure the healthcare system reflects their needs – an in particular those with intersecting experiences.

As we enter the ‘recovery’ phase of Covid-19, there is increased demand for community health services – which were already under pressure prior to the pandemic.

We have seen the impacts of the coronavirus across all programs and services, from our GPs and mental health teams, through to chronic disease management, alcohol and other drugs programs and our refugee settlement team.

Our workforce is tired and stretched.

Like most of our Not-For-Profit partners, we are bursting at the seams and require investment in infrastructure.

Community health services need to be adequately funded from health prevention through to patient management, wellbeing and support, and be actively included in co-design of future programs and funding, to ensure healthcare needs are being met when and where they are required.

During the 2022 Federal and State election campaigns, we invite all candidates to meet with us and learn about the important role of community health services.


In particular, we are advocating for:


Mental health workforce strategy

There is limited capacity within the Community Health Sector to recruit and supply appropriately qualified and trained staff to provide the wide array of mental health support programs needed in rural and regional areas.

Currently, many programs are competing for the same pool of staff.

BCHS and the community sector needs access to appropriately experienced staff in these priority areas:


GP recruitment and retention strategy

There are significant gaps across rural and regional Victoria, where GP vacancies exist – meaning access to healthcare and treatment is limited for those communities.

We need:

·        Changes to the Health Act under the section 19AB, where community health services are approved as priority level 2 agencies deemed exempt under the Modified Monash Model, allowing us to recruit overseas trained doctors.

Bendigo currently has an exemption; however this has a limited lifespan.


·     Support in developing a model that will support the transition of overseas-trained doctors into the Australian healthcare system.

It is currently difficult and tortuous for both the doctor and the service seeking to engage the doctor.  This model would allow for regional, hub-based training to occur under supervision in regional areas.


Prevention and health promotion funding

There is a need for funding that prioritises community education and prevention messaging, which supports long-term strategy and intergenerational change that will see health and wellbeing embedded into everyday lives.

Through greater community awareness and targeted messaging, people are more able to recognise and articulate what they are experiencing and feeling – and are therefore in a better position to make decisions about how and when to reach out for support for their healthcare needs.


Infrastructure investment

Many of our facilities are dated and bursting at the seams.

We are currently engaging in a capital master planning process, which will help us plan for a service that delivers the best care to people when they need it, where they need it.

BCHS is exploring place-based models of care, which will require critical infrastructure investment. We know the people we work with need access to health care near their homes and the areas in which they move about.

With rising costs of living, we know the cost of travel is a barrier to people seeking support – and services need to be where they are most needed.


A new, purpose-built residential alcohol and other drugs withdrawal facility

We are seeking a funding commitment for a purpose-built withdrawal facility that meets the needs of the local community.

The current five-bed alcohol and other drugs withdrawal facility is not fit for purpose and too small to respond to community needs and demand.

Despite the significant catchment area, the current building and program is the smallest community-based withdrawal facility in Victoria.

We need improved access to place-based withdrawal facilities, which will mean local people can stay in their own community for care and support.

A new facility will also allow BCHS to provide support for community members with more complex health presentations.

A new ‘industry-leading’ model of care that also explores post-treatment responses will improve treatment effectiveness and reduce the impact of substance use on the individual, family, community and health/social support systems.

The building was initially an aged care facility that was decommissioned as it was too small to meet the funding model requirements. It became a withdrawal facility in 2004.

The building itself is in a poor state of repair and requires a significant upgrade if it has any longevity.

BCHS are currently undertaking a service model development process, jointly funded by the Department of Health and BCHS, to determine what an evidence-based community responsive withdrawal facility should ‘look like’.

The facility would provide a service response to the newly Bendigo law courts.

Further benefits include an increased workforce in the AOD sector, and a capital build that has flow on benefits to the local economy.


Pain and Medication Management wellness centre

We are seeking seed and ongoing funding for a Pain and Medication Management Wellness Centre, in partnership with our AOD withdrawal service, mental health services and supporting allied health and GP services.

We are seeing increased dependence on legally prescribed opioids, often in response to pain management needs for injuries or chronic disease.


Investment in refugee health and wellbeing

We see significant need for an improved comprehensive system response to building refugee health, wellbeing and safe living - including addressing systemic issues and improving refugee sensitive practice.  

Bendigo has mostly first-generation refugees and has only been intensely settling for 12 years. Most refugees arrive in Bendigo with no public health and wellbeing immunity (ie. screening, health promotion, western health concepts). They have very poor health literacy and help-seeking behaviour is a foreign concept.

Impacts of climate change (fire, heat, flood) pose a threat to community safety due to new environments and predominantly westernised messaging.

BCHS has been supporting the settlement of refugees for almost 12 years and has consulted and documented unmet community needs over this time. We have also documented barriers to accessing the broader mainstream service system. We have numerous project reports to demonstrate evidence. We also steer the local Settlement Network to highlight and respond to emerging needs. 

BCHS has observed and evidenced an exacerbation of this situation during Covid-19, including:

·       Community reaching out to BCHS instead of approaching designated mainstream services.

·       Youth becoming more disengaged with an increase in risk taking behaviours – justice involvement

·       An increase in racism incidents

·       Poor digital literacy preventing access to supports, health messaging and mainstream services

We continually explore funding opportunities to meet these service gaps, however the majority are short-term and do not support true system change or community improvements.