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Closing the Gap with SWAMS, part 2: Steven

Last week, we introduced you to Katherine, an Aboriginal health worker specialising in maternal health. In the second part of our SWAMS interview series, we meet Steven Hayes, who explains why there is such a demand for male Aboriginal health workers, and describes how the services SWAMS offers are really making a difference to the local Aboriginal community. He also shares a few healthy living tips!

Can you please tell me a little about yourself?
Steven: I’ve just finished my training to be an Aboriginal health worker. I’m originally from Port Hedland; I’m a Pilbara boy. I’m usually a truck driver and big machine operator — that’s my usual trade. But I had to change all that and try to work around the school hours for my kids … I’m just becoming a single Dad. SWAMS offered a course here, and I applied for it and surprised myself that I got it.

Please describe some of the work you do day to day as a health worker?
Steven: Day-to-day services: we go around checking up on the elderly clients, the chronic clients [patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes], just doing follow-ups of the clients that have been discharged from hospital. Even doing follow ups after the client has seen the doctor to see if the client is compliant with their medication.
Sometime we get called out to go and talk to people because they feel they want to talk to a male worker and we get them to come and talk to a male doctor. Sometimes we go to the schools – we deal with the young Grade 1 to the older ones, Years 7 and 8.

Why is it so important to have a male Aboriginal health worker?
Steven: A lot of the young fellas here now are growing up pretty much like me … you can relate to them a bit. Being an Aboriginal as well, it does help. Even though I’m not from here, I do still get that respect being an Aboriginal person. And that makes it a lot easier. I don’t know what it is, maybe the kinship.

Steven Hayes with patient. Photo: Bonnie Savage/OxfamAus
Steven Hayes with patient. Photo: Bonnie Savage/OxfamAus

We saw you working today with the kids doing health checks at Djidi Djidi school — what are some of the practical things you do there?
Steven: I love going to Djidi Djidi because you get to see all different characters; I reckon it’s awesome. I can see a little shy person and a really rowdy person walks in after them.
At Djidi Djidi we check to see if they have any sores. A lot of them do come with blisters on their feet. So we clean it up. I like to make them laugh a bit as well. It makes them more relaxed, especially when they are coming and seeing a stranger … I think it’s really good for the kids. For some it could just be a sore, but if it’s not treated properly it can become a big thing. And a lot of the parents don’t have the right things at home, and all it takes is a simple bandage, and a talk and a laugh … It was a bit hard at first as some of the kids were a bit wary … now they are all rushing in … they all want to be first. That’s rewarding.

What changes or positive stories can you share about your work?
Steven: I’ve got a swimming group that I run, with the Elders who are 45 and over. It’s for the guys who are pretty much sitting around; they are losing feeling in their legs and the blood’s not flowing properly. So I get them there to do some light and mild exercise … it’s toning and using the muscles that they are not using at home. There’s one fella there – he’s pretty constant. He even comes if it’s just him. He’s really feeling it within himself – the difference from doing the pool exercise.

By connecting people with services like SWAMS, how is that impacting on the overall health of Aboriginal people?
Steven: The services SWAMS offers are unbelievable. They even put trainees through to being health workers — that’s how I got the job. There’s only two boys left of those (four) who did the course but that’s still two boys that they didn’t have. I know male health workers are the ones that are needed, not just here but pretty much Australia wide. I just wish there were more Aboriginal Medical Services.

From a holistic point of view, what are your hopes for the Aboriginal kids?
Steven: One of the things I want to get across is healthy living, and education. Education can go a long, long way. And it can better all of us. We need more Aboriginal doctors, even just health professionals.
Healthy living, getting better jobs – they don’t have to be sitting back doing nothing … there are things out there. They don’t have to be a doctor, they can do anything.

What kind of healthy living tips do you pass onto the kids?
Steven: The right food, the right fruit and vegies. It’s good to get to the young people, like the young mums. It’s good to teach them, and then they’ll teach their kids. I want to do a veggie garden as well, and show ways of healthy eating. That’s what we’ve got to teach, getting in there and cooking our own healthy food. And they’ll find that’s a lot cheaper …
Instead of going walking to the shop, why don’t we go walk about in the bush here again? There’s all that food out there that we used to get but we don’t get it anymore.

Next week: Hayley talks about building bonds with clients.