Health services need to take "rigorous action" to Close the Gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia, the new Area Director of Aboriginal Health at Western Australia's key East Metropolitan Health Service said Thursday.
Minang Noongar woman Francine Eades, who took on the role after leading Western Australia's COVID-19 vaccine roll out in Aboriginal communities, said it was time for "uncomfortable discussions" about racism and other issues affecting Aboriginal Australia.
"We know what the epidemiology of Aboriginal health tells us – we know about those disparities that have existed for quite some time," Ms Eades said.
"We have to acknowledge it and take concrete action to address those disparities in a systemic and rigorous way. It's time to have some of those uncomfortable conversations about racism and how we are going to address it."
Ms Eades was speaking at a ceremony in Perth to mark her appointment. Attendees included WA Minister for Health and Mental Health Amber-Jade Sanderson and East Metropolitan Health Service (EMHS) chief executive Liz MacLeod.
The new role, which gives Aboriginal patients and workers a voice at executive level, is "a further strengthening of the service's commitment to Aboriginal health", the state government said. It builds on health programs such as the mobile podiatary and diabetes program Moorditj Djena and the Aboriginal Acute Care Coordination Team, which supports patients with acute conditions after they are discharged from Royal Perth Hospital.
EMHS has the largest number of Aboriginal people in its catchment area of all health services in Perth. It includes Royal Perth Hospital, Armadale Health Service, Bentley Health Service, Kalamunda Hospital and St John of God Midland Public Hospital.
Ms Eades said she felt privileged to be serving in the role on Noongar Country where she was born, but noted that the specialist health care at EMHS was important to Aboriginal people across the entire state. She hoped other WA health services would create similar executive positions.
"Importantly I sit at the executive table and directly report to the Chief Executive," she said.
"I believe this is where Aboriginal health leaders need to be. "My hope is that all health service providers across the metropolitan area follow and place their Aboriginal leaders at the executive table."
Ms Eades said she had "hit the ground running". Priorities in her first three months have included working with the National Heart Foundation to bring back an Aboriginal heart health program and with Curtin University to encourage Aboriginal health graduates to view East Metropolitan Health Service as an employer of choice.
Ms Eades has more than 30 years' experience in the health sector, including 20 years as a registered nurse, and has a Master of Public Health in Applied Epidemiology obtained under the supervision of now Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
She played a key role in lifting rates of COVID-19 vaccination rates in Aboriginal communities as Aboriginal Health Lead for the WA COVID-19 Vaccination program.
Ms Eades is also a past chairperson of the Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service and worked as an academic at the Curtin University Centre for Aboriginal Studies and the Curtin Medical School.
As Area Director of Aboriginal Health for EMHS she leads teams across a wide range of Aboriginal health programs and services.
Minister Sanderson welcomed Ms Eades to the role.
"We know we are not going to shift the dial on challenging systemic issues unless we put people in senior positions and a laser focus on them – and that's what this is," she said.
"It is great to see Aboriginal health lifted up and promoted to that executive position."
Also, later this month a leading Australian expert in racism, Dr Naomi Priest, will be in Perth for an East Metropolitan Health Service leadership forum and to work with area health executives.