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Mental health innovator is Nurse of Year

Aged-care worker, infant health team take other top honours at HESTA awards. 

A mental health nurse from Melbourne has been named Nurse of the Year at the recent HESTA Nursing Awards.

Steve Brown, from NorthWestern Mental Health, was recognised for his role in the implementation of a new system that has resulted in a decrease in mental health presentations at one of Melbourne’s busiest emergency departments.

The Police Ambulance Clinical Emergency Response (PACER) system involves mental health nurses working with police and ambulance services on call-outs for people in a critical state from mental illness. A clinician and police officer work together as a unit out of a police station, responding to situations that may have a mental health component.

“When a situation arises, [the unit] makes contact with whoever the first responder unit is to determine whether they need to attend,” Brown said. “Similarly, if the first responder unit makes the decision that someone may be psychiatrically unwell and needs to be assessed, they can call the PACER unit in.”

Brown said having trained police and clinicians attending and assisting within the home eases the impact on hospital emergency departments and reduces the individual’s distress.

He was humbled when announced as the winner, saying it was a “huge honour” to be in the company of such amazing finalists.

“For me to then actually be named as the winner was frankly a bit overwhelming – I was quite taken back and somewhat shocked, really,” he said.

The Team Innovation award was taken home by the Queensland group, thanks to a child health program aiming to reduce Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Cape York.

In an Australian first, the Pēpi-pod program combines a portable safe sleeping space for babies with a targeted health promotion initiative for families with known risk factors for SUDI.

The award was accepted by professor Jeanine Young from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queensland’s University of the Sunshine Coast. Young is the program leader and chair of the SIDS and Kids National Scientific Advisory Group.

“This program originated in New Zealand and the name of the pod comes from Pepi, which is Maori for baby, with the ‘pod’ symbolising protection of precious new life,” Young said. “Co-sleeping is a valued infant care practice by many families. However, it is associated with an increased risk of infant death in certain circumstances.”

The program began in December 2013 and is expected to run for about two years. The team will use the prize money, a $10,000 development grant, to buy much needed iPads to help further engage the community.

Speaking with the emcee of the evening, Virginia Trioli, Young confirmed 30 Pēpi-pods have already been distributed to families and there are plans to extend the service to more Cape York communities.

Melbourne-based Zoe Sabri from the Royal District Nursing Service, was this year’s Outstanding Graduate, recognised for her work in assisting elderly clients with remaining in their homes as long as possible.

This award is given to a nurse of midwife who has shown exceptional patient care, enhanced quality processes and improved his or her own skills during the first graduate nursing year.

Sabri, who works in Springvale, one of Melbourne’s most culturally diverse communities, said she encounters a wide range of languages, cultures and traditions, which it’s important to respect.

“Our work involves more than just nursing, we consider and incorporate the [wishes of the clients and their families], whilst advocating for the client and ensuring they receive the best possible care,” she said.

HESTA chair Angela Emslie said all the award recipients had gone above and beyond what could be expected of them.

“The judges were impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the 15 finalists,” Emslie said, “who are making a real difference to people’s lives and tackling some of our most intractable social problems.”

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