Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
As regular readers of Intouch are aware, the PHAA is using the upcoming federal election as an opportunity to campaign for, among other things, a significantly bigger slice of the budget pie for public health.
Fascinatingly, the first of our public health workforce profiles for 2022 neatly ties together several of the PHAA’s key policy platforms, including the need for greater investment in the public health workforce and the creation of a long-overdue Australian Centre for Disease Control & Prevention.
For our former Queensland Branch President, Letitia Del Fabbro, these are two of her priorities as she prepares to contest the election as the Labor candidate for the Gold Coast-based seat of Fadden.
It’s Letitia’s first tilt at politics and she admits being ‘excited’ about what lies ahead.
“I have over 25 years’ experience in the health and education sectors and I have seen the impact of government cuts to funding of Medicare and the tertiary education and TAFE sectors,” Letitia said.
“These sectors really need to be adequately funded so that doctors and nurses can do their jobs and so that the public health system can function effectively.
“That’s why I’m standing up as a Labor candidate, because I believe the community deserves affordable child care, and accessible health care for all, including aged care that focuses on the individual.”
Letitia is using her depth and experience in the health sector as a launchpad for what she hopes will be a whole new career. But today is about capturing some of that background to highlight the life of a very successful public health professional.
Why a career in public health?
In the 1990’s, Letitia was working as a Registered Nurse in acute care hospitals (Royal Adelaide, and Royal Darwin) and finishing a Graduate Diploma of Arts (Aboriginal Studies).
“At that time, I became interested in studying Public Health,” Letitia recalled.
“I became interested in public health paradigms and concepts including: community participation and community development, program planning, epidemiology and health promotion. So, I chose to study an MPH through Menzies School of Health Research.
“I liked that public health was relevant to the work of health services but at its heart is recognition of the wide range of health determinants, and that ‘health’ does not (usually) originate in healthcare systems. I was seeing this play out in my day-to-day clinical work at the Royal Darwin Hospital.
“In terms of action on the determinants of health, I think that implementation of the Uluru Statement, in full (including a national process for Treaty-making and Truth-Telling overseen by a Makarrata Commission, with a constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament), has the potential to make a real difference to closing the gap work.”
What part of your work gives you the greatest satisfaction?
“I really love the interdisciplinary nature of public health policy and practice, and working with a wide range of people and groups.
“In recent years (since 2008) I have enjoyed working with the PHAA Queensland Branch and contributing to the advocacy work of the organisation, including as Queensland branch president from 2019-2021.
“It has been great to contribute to the legislative process and see the legislation that we have advocated for being implemented, such as abortion law reform, and Health and Wellbeing Queensland commissioned.”
How has COVID impacted your life and your work?
“It’s been a challenging time, having children in primary school during this period, juggling home schooling and work demands.
“In Queensland we have not been impacted to the extent that Victoria and New South Wales have, however, a lot of businesses have struggled. My Mum lives in Adelaide so it’s been hard not being able to see her as often. Luckily we were able to get to Adelaide for Christmas 2020 and Mum could come here, to the Gold Coast, for Christmas 2021. I appreciate the difficulties people have faced.
“During COVID, I participated in the PHAA Mentoring Program for Victorian DHHS COVID-19 Staff, as a mentor.
“This was a great experience for me, being able to draw on my experiences for these mentoring sessions, including my advocacy leadership experience with the PHAA Queensland branch, and my previous work as a Public Health Nurse in Disease Surveillance and Investigation. This pandemic has really highlighted for me the need for a national Australian Centre for Disease Control.
“During COVID, I continued my work as a nursing academic and educator at the Griffith University School of Nursing and Midwifery and Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service (GCHHS) (in the Nursing and Midwifery Education and Research Unit).
“COVID has significantly impacted the higher education sector, which, due to a long history of funding cuts in higher ed, is underfunded and reliant upon full fee-paying international student revenue.
“The sector was impacted significantly nationwide. Additionally nursing students have been impacted by changing clinical placements as a result of COVID restrictions and GCHHS, like other health services, has implemented changes in response to the changing context.
“As a nursing academic, in COVID times, it’s been a busy time. Now more than ever the value and trust that the public has in Registered Nurses is being recognised and reflected in the demand for university places in nursing degree programs.
“During COVID most of my work with the PHAA Qld branch was done on-line. I chaired our biennial ‘Elkington Oration 2021’ with orator Associate Professor Linda Selvey via Zoom on-line and my appearances in Queensland State Parliament were via remote on-line link up.
“I also presented a keynote address: ‘Advocacy and Nursing: Opportunities for Influence and Impact’ at the 18th National Nurse Education Conference.
“Like most people, recently my life has been impacted by increasing COVID case numbers and I’ve seen lots of people stressed out as they scramble to find RATs so that they can safely go to work, for example in NDIS service provider roles, or to feel safe visiting vulnerable family members.
“There is also a need for a concerted effort at intersectoral policies, that support health outcomes, for example in order to respond to the health impacts of rising mental illness prevalence, social isolation and job losses.”
Who would you like to give a shout-out to?
“The crew in the PHAA Qld branch who are continuing to do a great job with new branch president, Paige Preston. Also, a shout out to the Public Health crew from Flinders University who I have stayed connected with since I worked there in the mid-00’s, and where I completed my Health Science honours degree about consumer participation in health services.
“Finally, a shout out to Menzies School of Health Research peeps where I started my public health journey, including Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly (who was one of my lecturers when I was studying my Master of Public Health). He’s doing an amazing job!”
If you were the Minister for Health for a day, what would you do?
“Where to start? My top three:
- I would fund and implement a national Australian Centre for Disease Control to facilitate a cohesive approach to pandemic management.
- I would strengthen Medicare and the PBS. Under the federal LNP government Medicare funding has not been maintained. Medicare needs to adequately fund GPs. Everybody is aware of increasing out of pocket expenses when they are paying for health services and pharmaceuticals.
- I would address the crisis in aged care. The Aged Care Royal Commission identified the urgent need to increase resident access to high quality personal and health care through a stable and qualified workforce.
“Can I do all that in one day?”