An innovative health program across Melbourne’s public housing high-rises has seen cohealth employ public housing residents and community members as ‘health concierges’ to share health information as Melbourne emerges from lockdown.
Eighty-four public housing residents representing more than 10 language groups are now working as cohealth Health Concierges, stationed at the base of high-rise towers in Kensington, North Melbourne, Flemington, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Footscray.
The Health Concierges’ role is to monitor the health and wellbeing of residents moving in and out of the building, take temperatures, provide the latest health information and updates to restrictions in their own language, link people who have symptoms to local testing sites and support services and provide masks.
cohealth says the Health Concierges bring their expertise on cultural approaches to health which is key to the successful dissemination of health information campaigns.
cohealth established the program in partnership with DHHS in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Health Concierges will continue to be funded until January, with hopes that they can be redeployed in roles that
“We’re joining forces with the people in the very communities that we’re serving to combine our health expertise with their community connections,” said Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth.
“This is community-led practice at its best, and most importantly it’s a two-way system. The Health Concierges help us get information to residents and are also a pathway for residents to tell us where there are information gaps or problems,” she said.
“These are trusted neighbours and friends of our target audience. They share language and culture and are recognised as reliable sources of information,” said Ms Bartholomeusz.
The Health Concierge roles have also provided job opportunities for people who often face barriers to gaining employment due to language, education or discrimination.
For Osman Mohammed, a resident and Health Concierge at the Fitzroy public housing towers, the role is his real job since arriving in Australia, despite holding a Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology from La Trobe University.
He said he had applied for hundreds of jobs but was unable to get an interview. Osman says that employing residents to provide health and social support makes sense.
“We understand the gap between the community organisations and the people they are supporting. We know the specific needs and requirements of the community, and most importantly we speak their language,” Osman says.
While acknowledging that COVID-19 is impacting all Victorians, Osman says people living in high-rise towers are among the most vulnerable.
The Health Concierges have worked with the community to develop a webpage that houses all COVID-19 community resources and information in Simple English and translated in key languages. This page is designed to help community leaders and people working with residents to share relevant accessible information.
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cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.