Older Persons Advocacy and Legal Service Update: Building collaboration across health and justice sectors

OPALS is “live”!

OPALS officially commenced on 5 August 2019.  It started in the Princess Alexandra Hospital and surrounding health area but will roll-out across Metro South.  It is the first of its kind in Queensland.  Prior to 5 August, Caxton staff and our partners at Metro South Health worked diligently behind the scenes to develop how the service would work.  This included but was by no means limited to, researching how other health justice partnerships (“HJPs”) work around Australia and abroad, recruiting, developing OPALS legal agreements, education, marketing, a practice manual, building networks and a lot of meetings with key stakeholders at Metro South Health, external organisations and consumer groups to get it right.  OPALS have also put together a digital poster that we hope you will think is fabulous and more importantly, it will prompt more people to hear and contact OPALS.  We are excited to see it go up around the PA hospital.

Presentations aplenty

OPALS Social Worker, Sally Richardson, and Lawyer, Tilé Imo, have been presenting 1-3 times a week every week since July at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and other places, about elder abuse prevalence, red flags/risk indicators of elder abuse and how OPALS will work.  They have really enjoyed dusting off their public speaking and creative writing skills and putting together case studies.  They have received very positive feedback about the presentations and how they have increased health knowledge of elder abuse.

Patients/Clients

OPALS has accepted six active case work clients now.  The clients were all referred from health services and the majority seen in the community.  All of the cases so far involve some form of financial abuse. The team has undertaken many ‘secondary consultations’ too which is basically a free de-identified, confidential, legal information phone service, for hospital staff to call and ask legal questions on behalf of patients or for themselves to build their legal knowledge around elder abuse/legal matters.

The importance of education and sharing knowledge

The Metro South Health coordinator of OPALS, Dr Anne-Louise McCawley is also the Queensland Health State-wide Clinical Education Program Manager for Social Work and Welfare. She invited the OPALS team to present at a Brisbane Diamantina Health Partnership Consumer Forum (which led to further invitations for them to speak at other places).

The linkages between health and justice have strengthened through this partnership as shown by the recent request for Caxton Legal Centre to update and provide basic education to health staff about the new Human Rights Act QLD 2019. This resulted in Bridget Burton, Director of Caxton Legal Centre’s Human Rights and Civil Law Practice, presenting on this topic at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in September to an estimated 150 Queensland Health staff across Queensland.  The ability to videoconference the presentation across the State increased staff attendance capacity and reach of the education.   This presentation was very well received and has resulted in further requests for community legal education.

Last week, the OPALS team were in Sydney for a 2-day conference hosted by Health Justice Australia, followed by a networking day. Health Justice Australia is a national network for HJPs around Australia. Queensland has 8 of over 240 HJPs around Australia and no HJP is the same. It was great for our team to connect with other professionals in this space and hear their stories, particularly in relation to the work and thinking required behind the scenes for partnerships to work and remain active. Both Tilé and Sally came back feeling refreshed and inspired to continue building the relationship with Caxton’s partner, Metro-South Health.