North West Queensland wants disaster response and recovery to be led locally by people and services willing to connect with communities with trusting relationships that evolve over time.
That was a key message from the North West Flood Recovery and Resilience Summit held in Julia Creek on November 30 which released its report just before Christmas.
It was the second summit held in the 20 months since the 2019 monsoon flood that devastated much of the region killing half a million livestock and destroying 20,000km of fencing.
Report authors Stuart Gordon (outgoing CEO of the Western Qld Primary Health Network) and Meredith Staib (CEO of RFDS Queensland) say the summit was not just a reflection on the journey since February 2019, but also a focus on capacity building for the future.
"In the affected region there is now firm evidence of an increased willingness for locals to open up about mental health and seek support, and this will only improve with the identification of well-matched, trusted local advocates to facilitate that vital first contact," they said.
The WQPHN and RFDS hosted the first summit in November 2019 and agreed to convene a second summit a year later to discuss improvements to services and disaster management response and recovery.
The report said three key themes emerged from the summit.
Firstly disaster planning, response and recovery must be community led reflecting the strong local character, local capacity, and desire for local control.
"Community led approaches are widely understood to provide the strongest and most effective preparation, response, relief and recovery in relation to extreme weather and other emergency events," the report said.
Secondly locally led planning and preparation for response, relief and recovery are all essential.
"Planning for an efficient, effective and prompt 'standing up' of the mental health support system when needed, is essential, however equally important is recognising those human and system elements that support preparedness and recovery after events," the report said.
The third theme was understanding that strong community recovery will occur where key issues are discussed however there needed to be a balance is found between local and external mental health services and between support from clinicians and non-clinical people and organisations.
It recommended that local GPs should be able to maintain their usual business, while providing additional capacity for mental health and recovery support while the stigma about accessing mental health support and services needed to be addressed.
While many people are recovering well from the floods, the report found some local individuals and businesses continue to struggle both financially and in mental health and ongoing support was needed.
The summit came up with six recommendations:
1 establish a group to plan for mental health service provision across the region
2 maintain an enduring mental health support service system
3 develop a package of structured learning and upskilling for mental health awareness and competency
4 establish a 'flexible funding pool' to support complementary recovery focused future events
5 identify suitable infrastructure in all communities for multipurpose, informal use for families or small groups, ideally aligned with clinical infrastructure.
6 seek funding from governments or business to engage resources and support this work over the next six months and potentially in an ongoing capacity.
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