Ear Health Education a focus for Outreach

The one thing all outreach visits have in common is they are improving the ear health amongst indigenous children.RIDBC Senior Audiologist Kim Ter-Horst visited Dubbo working with Hear our Heart Ear Bus.

The team at the RIDBC Jim Patrick Audiology Centre have been attending outreach programs to various parts of the state for over 16 years. Each one is unique. Each one is different. But they all have one thing in common – they are improving the ear health amongst indigenous children.

At various stages of the year the team visit and provide hearing assessments to indigenous children living in regional and remote areas of NSW.

Over the years outreach programs have been facilitated in Goulburn, Nambucca Heads, Kempsey, Broken Hill, Lightning Ridge, Tamworth, Narooma, Ballina, Taree and Walgett.

 Kim performing a hearing test on a child. 

As recent as mid-October, RIDBC Senior Audiologist Kim Ter-Horst visited Dubbo working with Hear our Heart Ear Bus, a community not-for-profit initiative of the Dubbo and District Deaf Club providing ear health education, targeted hearing testing and free access to ear specialists to children in Dubbo and surrounding districts.

Some people may perceive outreach as providing a service to communities in need just a few days per year, however the work of the RIDBC staff goes well beyond that, as Kim explains.

“The purpose is more than providing hearing assessments to a few children” says Kim. “We are there to educate on the importance of good ear health and to create, foster and build relationships with people who are influential in the community”.

Kim providing a hearing assessment on a child being held by his mother.

In rural and remote communities’ influential people can be teachers, community elders, parents and health practitioners.

Head of RIDBC Jim Patrick Audiology Services, Genelle Cook, agrees “Our work is just the foundation. It is vital that the children we identify receive the further treatment they need”. For the staff, this is where the strong relationships become essential. In the past, success has been achieved through effective relationships with the local Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS).

It is education and relationship building that will hopefully see cultural changes in the communities’ perceptions regarding the importance of good ear health, with the children the beneficiaries.

“Educating the educators is vital - sometimes it is as basic as hand-hygiene and nose-blowing” Kim says, as she recalls the moment a three-year-old told another to wash his hands after sneezing in them. Kim can’t remember where that incident occurred, but it demonstrated that their teachers had learnt about the importance of hand hygiene and had passed it on to the children.

For people living in more remote communities, having access to services can be a challenge. However, for the staff that attend outreach programs, the challenge goes much further.

Kim performing a hearing assessment on a child.

Kim says “Indigenous ear health varies greatly across and between communities. It isn’t something that should be generalised”. She continues “No two days or two outreach visits are the same; they all have unique challenges that we have to address”.

Challenges vary from conveying the importance of audiological care to parents, to providing assessments in environments that are not ideal, including outdoors.

It is overcoming such challenges that provides the biggest reward for staff like Kim “Returning to communities after a period of time and seeing children who have benefited from further treatment since our last assessment is rewarding” she says.

And the wish of Kim, and the team, is clear; “That the children we see today will understand and appreciate the importance of good ear health for the children of tomorrow”.

Up until this year outreach programs were only attended, and facilitated, in NSW; however, vital work with Northern Territory Health will see the team of RIDBC audiologists from the Jim Patrick Audiology Centre visit Tennant Creek for the first time in 2020.

Thank You Rex!

Without the generous and ongoing support of Rex Airlines many of the outreach programs undertaken by the staff of the RIDBC Jim Patrick Audiology Centre would not be possible. RIDBC extends the warmest of thanks for their dedication to the ear health of indigenous children in rural and remote communities.

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