St Vincent’s Health Australia exists to deliver on the Mission of its founders, the Venerable Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity, to “bring God’s love to those in need through the healing ministry of Jesus”.

While everything we do is an expression of our Mission, the chief way is by making sure our health and aged care services are accessible to people who need them most, prioritising population groups with health vulnerabilities including: people experiencing mental illness, people experiencing homelessness; people experiencing problems with their alcohol and drug use; prisoners; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
St Vincent’s Health’s investment in Mission-related services and activity totaled $192.5 million in 2019-20, an increase of 15.6% on the prior financial year, which includes financial support from state and Commonwealth governments.
The areas which saw the most significant increases were in correctional health, mental health, and care provided to patients who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Islander.

1. Aboriginal Health includes all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-identified patients2. Mental Health excludes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-identified patients and prisoners3. Other includes bad debt write off (including overseas patients), asylum/refugees, family violence, and aged care supplement Aboriginal Health includes all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-identified patientsMental Health excludes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-identified patients and prisonersOther includes bad debt write off (including overseas patients), asylum/refugees, family violence, and aged care supplement 1. 2. 3.

One of the key ways St Vincent’s Health Australia’s commitment to its Mission is demonstrated is by self-funding – independent of governments – services and research through the organisation’s Inclusive Health Program (IHP).

In 2019-20, St Vincent’s directed just over $4.6m towards services designed to provide innovative and compassionate care to populations with health vulnerabilities and support research projects to improve our understanding of the issues faced by these same groups.

One of the chief initiatives funded by the IHP during the year was the Flexiclinic at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Emergency Department.
It’s well known that one of the barriers to addressing poor health outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not providing culturally appropriate services. The failure to do so can often lead to First Nations peoples leaving the hospital before their treatment is completed, or in the ED, sometimes before they are even seen.
In the year 2018-19, 19.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients presenting to St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s ED did not finish their care, giving the hospital one of the highest rates of incomplete treatment for First Nations patients in the state (the NSW Health target is 5%).
The Flexiclinic concept aims to address the issue by providing maximum flexibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. As soon as an Aboriginal patient presents at the hospital’s ED and identifies themselves as First Nations they are seen by specialists immediately. The clinic’s doctors and the hospital’s Aboriginal Health Unit are both notified by text when a patient enters and self-identifies as First Nations. Patients who are required to return for follow-up treatment are not required to make an appointment.
In just a few short months, the Flexiclinic approach has had a dramatic impact on St Vincent’s Sydney’s incomplete treatment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, with the rate dropping from 19.5 per cent (2019) to 8.4 per cent in June and 4.5 per cent in July 2020. The August 2020 statistics show 191 presentations to ED and only three incomplete treatment episodes, accounting for 1.6 per cent.

Such strong success meant the average incomplete treatment rate for the hospital over these three months dropped to 4.8 per cent, which is well below the NSW average of 8.6 per cent.
St Vincent’s Health Australia is strongly committed to improving the health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in other ways.
During the year, the organisation worked tirelessly on the development of its fourth Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and its second Stretch RAP which was completed mid-2020.
SVHA’s RAP is a strategic framework to assist the organisation in its efforts to support reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a practical, measureable plan of action that aligns with our business and operational goals and facilitates progress towards a just, equitable and inclusive nation where reconciliation can be achieved.
A ‘Stretch’ RAP signifies that an organisation is well advanced in embedding strategies that advance reconciliation, both internally and externally, and is focussed on consolidating its efforts so they become ‘business as usual’.

Another avenue for St Vincent’s Health’s expression of Mission came when the global COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia and the understanding developed of how a surge in patients could overwhelm staff and affect hospital capacity.
A St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Wellbeing Action Plan was formulated with the anticipation of helping staff manage similar scenarios to the UK and Italy. It was subsequently modified to support staff manage the psychological stress of being in a continual state of heightened COVID preparedness, along with the donning and doffing of PPE, the impact of social distancing, and potential redeployment.
Based on the Melbourne hospital’s efforts, St Vincent’s Health set in motion a cross-organisational project to upskill staff in pastoral care and peer support in order to provide back up to their colleagues in those roles if necessary.
The initiative was facilitated by online training and webinars, and supplemented with self-guided educational and formative materials. The initiative proved particularly valuable when Victoria experienced its second wave of COVID infections and a group of 10 Melbourne-based staff were called on to support St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Pastoral Care team offering spiritual and emotional support to patients who, because of pandemic restrictions, were unable to have visitors.

St Vincent’s Health Australia’s commitment to Mission is not only expressed by funding and services but also by its advocacy. During the year, the organisation’s Corporate Affairs team produced 11 separate submissions to state and federal government inquiries on issues as diverse as homelessness, Sydney’s night-time economy, family violence, drug testing, and the adequacy of Newstart.
Similarly, the organisation added its voice to a range of public debates via the placement of opinion pieces in national and major metro news outlets covering health reform, the benefit of Melbourne’s medically-supervised injecting room, the extension of bottle shop trading hours in NSW, and private health insurance.
Finally, the 2019-20 financial year saw St Vincent’s Health Australia introduce a cross-organisational communications network for the first time in the shape of Facebook Connect. Offering staff an internal ‘social network’ has been an important step in sharing information and bringing the organisation’s 36 different facilities across three states together for a common purpose.
Connect has proved invaluable for internal communication, particularly during the pandemic. At the pandemic’s height, staff were making an average of 20.42 connections with Connect every 28 days, meaning the service was facilitating a level of information seeking and gathering – and message clarity – that was not previously available.