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Transforming lives, one small change at a time

Chloe, an occupational therapist in Cairns, has found her dream job. And it is a long way from the dusty red plains of the Pilbara in Port Hedland, Western Australia, where she grew up.

It was in Year 10 that Chloe decided on her future career path after listening to an occupational therapist at a career seminar at her school.

"Before that I knew I wanted to be in a profession where I helped people. I loved human biology and the more I read about occupational therapy, the more interested I became," Chloe said.

After completing her degree, Chloe joined the department in 2013 and is now part of the occupational therapy team offering housing support for clients who have disabilities, chronic medical conditions or people who have difficulty accessing their homes. She is based in the Remote Area Housing Service Centre, and works in the remote communities of Cape York, the Northern Peninsula area and the Torres Strait.

"All the clients I work with are in remote communities," Chloe said.

"We'll receive a referral from the local health provider or housing staff and we'll go out and do an assessment with the client, preferably at their home. Our assessment looks at how they are managing at home, and we look at anything that might have to change, whether that be transferring to a new home or whether we need to modify the existing property so they can remain independent and safe in their own home."

Chloe explains that sometimes making a real difference to people's lives can often mean just making a small, but crucial change.

"Something really common for us is the bathroom. Some of our older clients find it hard to stand in the shower, so we might offer to put in a shower seat, and/or some grab rails," Chloe said. 

"It might also be as simple as putting some hand rails near the toilet so they can manage without someone having to help them. This gives them the independence and confidence to remain living in their own home."

Along with other HPW occupational therapists, Chloe and colleague Alex Franklyn recently presented ‘The unique role of occupational therapists providing home modification within remote Indigenous communities' to a national conference in Canberra.

Although it was nerve-wracking delivering their presentation in the main ballroom rather than the more intimate meeting room they were expecting, Chloe said they received great feedback and were pleased with the outcome.

"It was a great chance to share and promote our work, as well as seeing what other professionals are doing Australia-wide.

"I think (as a department) we are pretty innovative. We were hearing at the conference that home modifications should sit with Housing Services – our department was one of the first to do this. The ACT has just started occupational therapists as part of their housing department. We have really blazed a trail there I think!"

While Chloe definitely considers distance a challenge in establishing trusted relationships with her clients, she believes her fellow OTs are ‘creative' in how they reach out to clients.

"When we go to communities and meet with the client, you have to make sure you have that really good quality time with them. I will sit down with the client somewhere they are comfortable with and have a chat to establish a relationship before we get down to what they may need," Chloe said.

"Although time can be a problem, I would rather do one really good assessment with a client and be really thorough and build that relationship, than do five really quick assessments that may miss the mark."

Chloe quotes the words of Australian ophthalmologist Fred Hollows, which she says explains her philosophy:

"Every eye is an eye, when you're doing the surgery there that is just as important as if you were doing eye surgery on the prime minister or the king."

"I am a great believer in that – just because someone lives in a remote community doesn't mean they should have less access to services than anyone else. I try to treat my clients just as I would my family or friends."

When she was growing up in Port Hedland, Chloe realised first-hand that lack of professional care and services was a continual problem for Indigenous people in remote communities.

"I am Aboriginal and my mum's family are from a small town about two hours south of Port Hedland, and most of the people who live there are Aboriginal. I know that historically the access to services there is not very good. They don't often get to see health professionals or access services that could really improve their lives. So that spurred me on to really want to provide that for my own local community, to make a difference," Chloe said.

"When this job came up and I got it, it was a dream come true really."

 And she is loving her life in Cairns, even if it did take a little while to get used to.

"Where I'm from it's red dirt and no trees – so it's a big shock with all the green!"

Last updated 22 September 2017    Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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