When Director of Social Work at the North West Hospital and Health Service (NWHHS), Linda Ford, was invited for the third time onto the National Board of the Australian Association of Social Workers, she decided she probably should accept.
“I will be the only Indigenous person on the board as Josephine Lee (Northern Territory) is resigning, the only person from Queensland Health, and the only person from Queensland once Karen Healy (current president) steps down later this year,” Ms Ford said.
“It’s important to have someone on the National Board who is indigenous and from a rural and remote area that can highlight the challenges for both Indigenous and non-indigenous social workers and their clients.”
Ms Ford has been a social worker since graduating from the James Cook University in 1995, and began work in a family support service, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care agency in Townsville.
After that she worked for Child Safety for over 15 years in various locations around north and west Queensland including Mount Isa.
“Child safety is still my passion but I needed to do something else so I came to Queensland Health,” she said.
Ms Ford worked as a Clinical Education Specialist – Coordinating education for Social Workers in health in North Queensland for two years, and then as manager of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service (ATODS) for the NWHHS.
“Social work looks after everything to do with a patient,” Ms Ford said.
“If the patient has literacy problems and can’t read their prescriptions, we step in to organise assistance in taking medication, understanding why they need to take that medicine, what it does and who in the family can help them comply with the treatment plan.
“If the patient is prescribed medicines that need to be kept in the fridge, but they’re living in the riverbed, we help with those problems, this happens too often.”
“We provide advocacy for the patient, education in relation to medical literacy, transport, emotional support, housing as it relates to their health condition and basically fix up any problems to do with their health care.”
Social workers are involved in end-of- life planning, she explained, helping with bad news diagnoses, complicated medical treatments, and supporting patients’ choices even when they choose not to proceed with medical treatment.
“We’re the interface between the patients, the medical facility and the community.
“We advocate for the rights of the patient to choose the kind of treatment they want. Clinicians rightly are focussed on treating the patient and helping them get better, but sometimes, especially at the end of life, that might not be what the patient wants.”
As well as focusing on her clients in the North West, Ms Ford is making an impact on the wider world. In late 2015 she was selected for an International Leadership Enhancement Program for Social Workers, spending two months at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital with five other Social Workers from around the world including Israel and Singapore.
Since her appointment to the National Board of the Australian Association of Social Workers, she has already been asked to submit an abstract for the Asian Pacific Social Work Conference to be held in China in September 2017.
“When I think back to when I decided to be a Social Worker in Year 8 while attending the Kalkadoon State High School in Mount Isa, to being asked to represent Australian Social Work internationally and now to be a board member of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) I realise that anything is possible, especially if you love what you do”.