Aged care residents in rural Victoria are now able to access telehealth counselling thanks to new funding awarded to the Swinburne University of Technology’s Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults.

The clinic recently received $396,000 from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. This allows Swinburne to expand its mental health support services across five Victorian regions – Loddon Mallee, Hume, Barwon South West, Grampians and Gippsland. 

“Access to government-funded psychological services for aged care residents in remote areas is difficult, and there are very few mental health providers who are equipped to work within this sector in these areas,” said director of the Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults, Professor Sunil Bhar.

Professor Sunil Bhar

There are approximately 245 residential aged care facilities in regional and rural Victoria, accommodating more than 18,000 residents. “Of these residents, more than 50 per cent live with significant levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness – yet their access to face-to-face mental health services in such regions is poor,” said Professor Bhar.

Launched in May 2020 following a month-long trial in seven aged care facilities, Swinburne’s telehealth counselling and support service for aged care communities was developed to address such accessibility barriers.

The free service – which uses cutting-edge video technology – was initially designed to offer comfort and support to aged care residents, their families and staff affected by the COVID-19 restrictions.

The services are provided by postgraduate psychology, counselling and social work students under the supervision of experienced practitioners. 

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  1. The sector needs dedicated Aged Care Counsellors who can be recognised in their own right as professionals working with older adults.
    Programs like Swinburne’s Wellbeing Clinic are sound as they provide the evidence base for programs and services that get funded. But there are counsellors who have an interest in working with older adults, who’ve built experience in this area and are unable to get work. Counsellors are treated as ‘not good enough’ professionals in aged care while treated as ‘good enough’ within a NDIS framework for delivery of services.

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