Funding to support vulnerable Victorians cut, despite program success

May 10, 2022

The highly successful High Risk Accommodation Response (HRAR) program will cease in June, as future funding was excluded from the State Budget 2022-23.

Community health services were advised in May, that the program funding would not be extended beyond 30 June 2022.

The HRAR program was established following the much-criticised public housing tower lockdowns of July 2020. Through the program, 24 community health services delivered outreach health and social care to people living in settings associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as public housing towers, rooming houses, supported residential services, disability residential services and caravan parks.

These are settings that are frequently characterised by social disadvantage, and populated with a high proportion of residents who have unmet health and wellbeing needs and who have previously had little contact with health services.

Supporting our most vulnerable

Now that the state’s high vaccination rates have allowed Victoria to ease COVID-19 restrictions and move towards a ‘COVID-normal’ way of life, a number of COVID-related programs are being wound back. However, the HRAR program delivered many more benefits to vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians beyond the COVID context.

HRAR providers actively engaged with people who were largely ‘unseen’ within the public health system at their place of residence. After building rapport and trust with residents, HRAR providers were able to connect them with other critical health and social supports, such as general practitioners (GPs), alcohol and other drug (AOD) services, family services, and migrant services.

It would be unjust to let these connections fall away with the funding, and for HRAR residents to once again become ‘invisible’ within the system. Certainly, our dedicated community health workers would find that unacceptable, but there is no capacity for the already stretched community health sector to pick up the cost of providing this important service.

The VHA recently delivered a proposal to embed the HRAR model of care as an enduring social care initiative within Victoria’s public health system. Such a model would undoubtedly continue to change the lives of many vulnerable and disadvantaged people and communities.

The VHA is pushing to have cancellation of the program reversed, as well as looking for other opportunities to build on the community health sector’s proven track record in primary health. We will provide updates as this work progresses.

Local model of care a success

The HRAR Program is a clear example of the significant contribution Victoria’s community health services made to the state’s COVID-19 response.

The VHA was commissioned by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing to evaluate the HRAR program. Our evaluation found that during 2020 and 2021, HRAR providers supported more than 1,714 high-risk settings and 16,166 dwellings from the inner city of Melbourne to Gippsland, the Wimmera, and beyond. In each part of the state, the program was tailored to the local residential landscape and resident needs – and saw locals looking after locals.

The full measure of HRAR’s success cannot be captured by numbers alone. Rather, it is the individual resident stories, the community connections formed, and the prevention of large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks in high-risk settings while HRAR has been in place, that showcase what has been achieved.

One staff member at IPC Health, received this letter from a HRAR resident in March 2022:

Just dropping a line to say thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

I developed COVID two days before Christmas and was in a really bad way. I live on my own and couldn’t leave my home. I was delivered a food parcel which saw me through. I thank your organisation for that.

All the way through I was contacted by phone to make sure that I was alright and if there was anything that I needed. Since that time, you’ve arranged dental care for me which I really needed. Next week is my fourth and final appointment and my teeth are done. You have also arranged for me to see a dietitian. It seems as though nothing is too much trouble.

You truly are an angel, and your help is much appreciated. You don’t judge or talk down to me and you should be commended for all that you do.

The world is a better place because of people like you and IPC Health. I can’t thank you enough.

This is just one example of the earnest feedback received by community health service staff working on the HRAR program.

More information about the performance and impact of the HRAR program is available in our evaluation report.