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CALD women are in compassionate hands

Published 18 March 2024

Maria helps give CALD women experiencing domestic violence information and choices

Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) Older Person's Health and Palliative Care Manager Maria Callaghan does pro bono work with CALD women.

Maria Liza Acabo Edubas Callaghan is a registered nurse, midwife, and migration law graduate passionate about building compassionate communities.  

Her dedication to this work is reflected through her role at Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) as the Older Person's Health and Palliative Care Manager, and her pro bono work in the community. 

Maria was recently nominated for a Cairns Regional Council International Women’s Day Woman of the Year Award for her pro bono work with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women, who are in Australia on temporary partner visas and experiencing domestic violence, and her work with NQPHN’s North Queensland Health Community Connectors Network. 

Through her advocacy and hands-on engagement in building compassionate communities from Weipa to Maroochydore, Maria has worked with countless CALD individuals, family carers, and community groups. 

“I strive to help improve the health, wellbeing, and lives of people in our region – and I love it. It fulfills my need to contribute,” she said.  

“Women experiencing domestic violence are vulnerable. CALD women on temporary partner visas are even more vulnerable as they have next to no support network. 

“What I have seen is that when these women get the courage to reach out for support, their partner may emotionally blackmail them by saying they will stop the partner visa sponsorship or that they will be deported. 

“Sadly, many CALD women in these situations believe their partner because they don’t have a support system or access to the right information.” 

Maria said her role within the CALD community was to empower women with information and choices. 

“I help them understand that they have choices and there are laws to protect them here in Australia,” she said. “If necessary, I also identify and connect them to available services. This is the same concept as Compassionate Communities.” 

Compassionate Communities is a globally recognised approach to improving the end-of-life experience for people by establishing local networks, groups, and services to be more conscious, aware, and equipped to offer support. 

Through NQPHN, Maria has led the implementation of the North Queensland Health Community Connectors Network, under the Compassionate Communities movement, training more than 350 health community connectors to help people access the services they need as they age, are near the end of their life, or who are grieving loss.  

“As a Compassionate Communities builder and health community connector, I help establish a wrap-around informal support network for families affected by life-limiting illnesses so they can access the services they need,” she said. 

Maria currently chairs the North Queensland Palliative Care Interagency Steering Committee, which brings together peak bodies, government departments, service providers and compassionate health community connectors.  

Refugee health information pack available for general practice

Refugee information pack for general practice

An increasing number of general practices across Cairns and Townsville are accessing a new Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) refugee health information pack. 

The information pack aims to highlight the support available for general practices that are providing health care services to refugees, such as interpreter services, relevant e Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items, and culturally responsive approaches.  

And it’s proving helpful for general practitioners (GPs), including Cairns Family Medical Centre GP Dr Sneh Tiwari, who began working with new migrants soon after arriving in Australia in 2001.  

“For the first couple of years, there was no support at all for GPs. I remember researching as to what constitutes a refugee experience and a Refugee Health Assessment,” Dr Sneh said. “Things changed with the advent of the Refugee Health Network and a dedicated refugee health nurse.  

“Working with new arrivals is always challenging, but despite the many challenges, complexities, and time constraints, I have always found refugee health rewarding.  

“Now that we have the Refugee Health Network and dedicated nursing support, as well as a practice support team consisting of the practice manager, receptionist, and practice nurse, providing a service to new arrivals is much more organised.”  

Townsville and Cairns are Humanitarian Settlement Program locations and NQPHN encourages and supports health services to people going through the refugee experience. 

Louise, from Aitkenvale Family Health Centre, in Townsville, said it was amazing to watch refugee patients “come out of their shells”. 

“Despite most of the time not being able to understand one another, the smiles and waving between reception and patients shows that they are comfortable in our practice and feel safe with us,” Louise said.  

“We aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, just treating people with kindness and respect, and without judgement, which is the least everyone deserves. 

Louise is responsible for liaising between the refugee health nurses, case managers, doctors, and refugees. 

“As a practice, we find it runs smoothly when one person takes charge to organise initial appointments, interpreter bookings, and any follow-up appointments required,” she said. 

Last updated: 18 March 2024