In the heart of Melbourne’s western suburbs, community health service cohealth has been quietly revolutionising the design and delivery of mental health services to create better and safer outcomes for both staff and clients.
Since it opened in October 2022, the Brimbank Mental Health and Wellbeing Local, known as Brimbank Local, has utilised innovative design, community collaboration, and a commitment to putting people first.
This dedication was recently rewarded when cohealth won the ‘Best Solution of a Work Health & Safety Risk’ award at September’s National Safety Awards 2023.
Brimbank Local is one of 60 local mental health services established by the Victorian Government in response to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System recommendations (with a plan for eventual establishment of up to 50).
The service aims to be a “front door” to the mental health system, providing a welcoming and accessible space for individuals aged 26 and above, without the need for referrals, appointments, or Medicare cards.
The key principle here is the “no wrong door” approach, ensuring that no one is ever turned away. The first question every person who walks in is asked is ‘how can we help?’
This open-door policy is particularly crucial in a field where individuals may be presenting with high levels of psychological distress.
cohealth, the not-for-profit behind the Brimbank Local, recognised the inherent risks for staff working in such environments, especially concerning occupational violence and aggression.
The risk profile at Brimbank Local is shaped by various factors, including the clinical conditions of clients, the stressful situations they may be experiencing, and co-occurring issues like substance use.
cohealth understood that the physical environment of Brimbank Local could either exacerbate or mitigate these risks.
To address these challenges, cohealth embarked on a collaborative journey with people with lived experience, clinicians, carers, and the community of Brimbank to create a facility designed to reduce the risk of occupational violence and aggression.
Consumers at Brimbank Local can choose their point of entry based on their needs. Whether it’s through a community space, a rear door leading to a quiet zone, or one of the many designated zones within the waiting area, the focus is on making individuals feel comfortable and safe. These zones offer a variety of activities, from fidget toys to art activities, providing opportunities for engagement and relaxation.
Furthermore, the facility is equipped with anti-ligature fixtures, duress alarms, and safe zones, essential for high-acuity mental health services. Yet, it also manages to create a “home-like” and calming atmosphere, a core requirement for consumers and their families. A dedicated de-escalation space adorned with wall murals and soothing colours has been designed to reduce distress.
At the core of the model of care at the Brimbank Local are workers with lived experience. A lived experience worker is the first point of contact for every person who walks through the door.
This approach, having someone who shares a similar background or experience, builds rapport from the very beginning and has significantly improved the client experience.
These thoughtful design elements and changes in service models is paying dividends Initial survey data has shown that 60% of respondents found the service easy to navigate, and an 67% would recommend it to a family member or friend. These statistics stand in stark contrast to the dissatisfaction often reported in other areas of the mental health system.
Even more striking is the fact that, after providing 7,000 epsidodes of care there have been no reported incidents of occupational violence and aggression at Brimbank Local. In the few critical incidents of self-harm, where individuals required escalation of care to tertiary services, the care model and building design have functioned as intended.
Through Brimbank Local, cohealth, in collaboration with Clarity Health Care and the University of Melbourne, is at the forefront of delivering mental health service delivery in Victoria.
The Brimbank Local model serves as a shining example of what can be achieved when we prioritise accessibility, safety, and the well-being of those who need it most.