1st Dec 2012

Peer Support Boosts Spirits for Renal Clients

A new Renal Primary Health Care program supports renal clients in Alice Springs.

For people with chronic kidney disease, options for treatment require a big change to routine and everyday life. For Aboriginal people living in remote communities, these changes can be immense – and isolating. The decision to undergo dialysis treatment most often means moving away from home and family, and into town – away from everything and everyone that is familiar.

In Alice Springs, people relocate from communities across Central Australia in order to receive dialysis treatment. Life in Alice Springs is very different from life out bush. Routines change; dialysis means spending five hours at a time, three days a week being treated at a renal unit. Accommodation might be with relatives, but more often it is in a hostel in town. With so many appointments, limited contact with close family and being so far from familiar surrounds, life can become quite alien for those receiving treatment by dialysis.

A new Renal Primary Health Care program being run by the Alice Springs-based Central Australian Aboriginal Congress aims to address some of the issues faced by renal patients, particularly those issues brought on by detachment from community and culture. Integral to the team is Aboriginal Liaison Officer Hamish McDonald, who provides the crucial link between the program and the clients to help them access the support they need in what may be an unfamiliar environment.

Campfires, kangaroo tails, painting and having a yarn are all part of the new program’s peer support sessions, being held in a number of renal units in Alice Springs.

“We wanted to create an environment where we could bring a little bit of ‘home’ here to the renal unit,” explained Mr McDonald.

“Our clients told us that they wanted to sit around a campfire again, that they wanted to eat kangaroo tail and smell the familiar smells of home,” Renal Primary Health Coordinator, Caroline Hombarume, added.

Activities are group directed and groups are generally male and female specific. Some women have said they want to do singing and dancing as part of their sessions. Re-connection with culture is an important aspect of the sessions.

Six people took part in the first peer support session, held recently in the courtyard of NephroCare Gap Road Dialysis Clinic in Alice Springs. The group of five men and one woman had mostly relocated from communities on the NPY Lands.

Aboriginal Liaison Officer Hamish McDonald says that the sessions are important in building trust with their clients.

“Getting people together in a more relaxed environment helps us to build trust, which then means we are able to help them with their overall health needs and even things like accessing other services like washing clothes or filling out paperwork,” Mr McDonald said.

“Once the group was relaxed, sitting outside around the campfire, eating kangaroo tail, they were able to open up a bit more and we could tell that this made them feel really happy,” Mr McDonald explained. “It was like they were able to take a little bit of control over their lives again – something that can feel lost when you’re undergoing such intense treatment.

“That’s what the sessions are all about.”