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Virtual volunteers bringing joy to the vulnerable

Lives in Latrobe Valley

When the global coronavirus pandemic reached the Latrobe Valley in March, part of Latrobe Regional Hospital’s safety-first response was to temporarily close Macalister Unit to visitors.

The on-site residential facility provides care for people over the age of 65 years with mental health or behavioural issues, many of whom are in the high risk category when it comes to COVID-19.

While the steps were necessary, the potential for social isolation of residents was immediately recognised and of concern to staff.

At the same time, many of the hospital’s loyal band of volunteers were no longer able to fulfill their roles due to physical distancing requirements.

Among them was Traralgon’s Kerrie Davey, who found herself missing the various benefits she associates with her usual twice-weekly role of concierge at the hospital’s old entrance, answering queries and guiding people where they need to go.

“For me it’s satisfying because I get a feeling of contributing,” Kerrie said.

“I like to interact with people and the exercise aspect is good. Sometimes I can walk up to 12 or 13km in a day.”

As it turned out, the changing circumstances were also the stars aligning in another respect, with the Latrobe Health Assembly helping to join the dots.

LHA Project Coordinator Jo Manco worked with the hospital’s Divisional Therapist Emily Pitzner to coordinate and facilitate a virtual social meeting space between volunteers like Kerrie and the residents of Macalister Unit, via Zoom.

The aim was to ensure some of the community’s most vulnerable members were provided an opportunity to connect, have social interactions and establish new friendships in a safe and supported environment, while minimising the negative effects of being disconnected from family, friends and the community.

“It’s something they look forward to, seeing the screen come on and seeing who’s there,” Kerrie said.

“The highlights are when you get greeted with ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’ve missed you, where have you been?’

“If I can put a smile on their face or make them laugh that’s what I’m there for.”

Kerrie moved to the Latrobe Valley six years ago in search of a change in scenery, and fond memories of regular visits to see a cousin in Traralgon growing up led her to make it her new home.

She started volunteering at Latrobe Regional Hospital in 2018 and didn’t hesitate to answer the call when the opportunity arose to get involved with Macalister Unit in May.

Sometimes the residents share their hobbies, such as colouring in activities, and on one occasion local student Mitchell Rong attended and played music for them. Other times, it’s just a ‘hello’ and a general chit chat.

Despite having never met the participants in person, Kerrie was looking forward to visiting Macalister Unit when restrictions allow.

“If I’m in a position to do so as soon as I can I will go and visit them face to face. I keep reiterating that to them every time we talk,” she said.

For more information about the Improving Social Isolation Project, please contact Latrobe Health Assembly Project Coordinator Jo Manco at josephinem@healthassembly.org.au

Virtual volunteers bringing joy to the vulnerable

Lives in Latrobe Valley

When the global coronavirus pandemic reached the Latrobe Valley in March, part of Latrobe Regional Hospital’s safety-first response was to temporarily close Macalister Unit to visitors.

The on-site residential facility provides care for people over the age of 65 years with mental health or behavioural issues, many of whom are in the high risk category when it comes to COVID-19.

While the steps were necessary, the potential for social isolation of residents was immediately recognised and of concern to staff.

At the same time, many of the hospital’s loyal band of volunteers were no longer able to fulfill their roles due to physical distancing requirements.

Among them was Traralgon’s Kerrie Davey, who found herself missing the various benefits she associates with her usual twice-weekly role of concierge at the hospital’s old entrance, answering queries and guiding people where they need to go.

“For me it’s satisfying because I get a feeling of contributing,” Kerrie said.

“I like to interact with people and the exercise aspect is good. Sometimes I can walk up to 12 or 13km in a day.”

As it turned out, the changing circumstances were also the stars aligning in another respect, with the Latrobe Health Assembly helping to join the dots.

LHA Project Coordinator Jo Manco worked with the hospital’s Divisional Therapist Emily Pitzner to coordinate and facilitate a virtual social meeting space between volunteers like Kerrie and the residents of Macalister Unit, via Zoom.

The aim was to ensure some of the community’s most vulnerable members were provided an opportunity to connect, have social interactions and establish new friendships in a safe and supported environment, while minimising the negative effects of being disconnected from family, friends and the community.

“It’s something they look forward to, seeing the screen come on and seeing who’s there,” Kerrie said.

“The highlights are when you get greeted with ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’ve missed you, where have you been?’

“If I can put a smile on their face or make them laugh that’s what I’m there for.”

Kerrie moved to the Latrobe Valley six years ago in search of a change in scenery, and fond memories of regular visits to see a cousin in Traralgon growing up led her to make it her new home.

She started volunteering at Latrobe Regional Hospital in 2018 and didn’t hesitate to answer the call when the opportunity arose to get involved with Macalister Unit in May.

Sometimes the residents share their hobbies, such as colouring in activities, and on one occasion local student Mitchell Rong attended and played music for them. Other times, it’s just a ‘hello’ and a general chit chat.

Despite having never met the participants in person, Kerrie was looking forward to visiting Macalister Unit when restrictions allow.

“If I’m in a position to do so as soon as I can I will go and visit them face to face. I keep reiterating that to them every time we talk,” she said.

For more information about the Improving Social Isolation Project, please contact Latrobe Health Assembly Project Coordinator Jo Manco at josephinem@healthassembly.org.au

Jay
Lives in Traralgon

The Valley can take us anywhere and I suppose we look up to those that have made it in whatever avenue they’ve taken, whether it’s science or education or whatever it is, sport.

There’s plenty of different heroes around town and it’s good that we can call them our own.

Kellie
Lives in Traralgon

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Kevin
Lives in Morwell

I’ve always felt proud of Latrobe Valley’s rich history surrounding the power generation, despite the controversy it’s drawn in recent years. I think it’s unfortunate that many people overlook the fact that it’s an industry which was of great significance to Australia’s progress as a developing nation during the post-war…