Learning from the success of Victoria’s community health response to COVID-19

June 30, 2021

Innovation, agility, clinical expertise and strong community connections – these were key elements of the successful community health response to COVID-19 in Victoria.

A new report published by the Victorian Healthcare Association (VHA) details the vast array of service adaptations and innovations implemented by community health services during 2020. These occurred as community health services supported and serviced their existing client groups, while expanding support to new population groups who were vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, social isolation, economic hardship and health risks.

Commissioned by the Department of Health, The community health response to the COVID-19 pandemic documents the introduction and acceleration of service and sector innovations during the pandemic in 2020 – many of which could offer sustainable benefits to Victoria’s healthcare system.

VHA CEO Tom Symondson said community health services were highly responsive and agile in their delivery of State and Federal government pandemic response programs including testing, social support, public health messaging and mental health programs.

‘Widespread service innovation was achieved while community health services faced multiple challenges during the pandemic,’ he said.

‘Victoria’s community health services continued to deliver clinical and social support to their clients, while supporting – often leading – the wider public health effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its social impacts. They did this while adapting to fast-changing government advice on restrictions and infection control and keeping their staff and clients safe from COVID-19 infection.’

Innovations and capabilities demonstrated by community health services during the pandemic included:

  • the rapid transition to deliver services via telehealth
  • supported isolation for people with COVID-19 and pathways to tertiary care, if required
  • the translation of public health messages into multiple languages
  • workforces that combined infection control and clinical expertise with social support skills
  • the expansion of services beyond existing client groups to deliver support to people at risk of COVID-19 infection, other health issues, family violence and social isolation.

‘Importantly, community health services were quick to identify the vulnerabilities and risks within their communities and responded with strategies that targeted and met the needs of Victoria’s diverse population groups,’ Mr Symondson said.

Community health services are now looking to formalise and systematise the successes of the COVID-19 response, and to better integrate the sector’s capabilities into the wider Victorian healthcare system.