Dr. Ed Poliness receives “Closing the Gap” award

A Victorian GP has been recognised for his service and support to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander communities after

he was awarded a prestigious Victorian Rural Health Award.

Acting medical director Dr Ed Poliness, 49, has been honoured for his work at the Geelong-based Wathaurong Aboriginal

Co-operative.

Dr Poliness won the Closing the Gap Award which recognises a health professional who has made significant contributions

in providing care to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander patients and Communities in which they practice.

Dr Poliness said he was thrilled to win the award on behalf of his hard-working team and the local Community.

“I’ve been working at Wathaurong for about 10 years and in Aboriginal health generally for about 20 years, and I love

working in an Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation (ACCO),” he said.

“Members drive and decide the important things in their health so it’s a great area to work in.

“While I won the award, it’s really the team I work with and the Communities I work for that should be winning this award.”

After starting work in Aboriginal health in 1998 in the Kimberley region in Western Australia, Dr Poliness’s travels have

taken him to most states in Australia except South Australia,

The whole of person approach to Aboriginal health and wellbeing was especially appealing and rewarding, he said.

“The health service puts together a team that are experts in different areas, and you get to work with Aboriginal health

workers who actually understand their patients’ needs,” he said.

“They can often translate things to a doctor which they might not know because they really understand what’s going on for

that person and what their needs are.”

Dr Poliness said working for an Aboriginal health co-operative was more rewarding than a typical GP role in a private practice.

“It’s about working for the Community and working for the people and they get to decide the general pathways and

structures of the health system looking after their health,” he said.

“For trainees there are definitely opportunities in this sector.

“But for anyone at any stage in their career, it’s something really worth trying and it’s a huge opportunity for Australian doctors.

“You’re working with one of the oldest communities in the world – it’s a thrill to be part of something like that.

“It’s good to see communities doing things for themselves by running Community-controlled health organisations.”

Despite a devastating second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria, ACCOs were largely successful in combating the coronavirus

with just 74 positive cases in Victoria’s Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander population of 58,000.

Dr Poliness said Australia’s mainstream health providers could learn valuable lessons from the ACCO approach.

“I think it was down to a motivation to protect Elders and having that whole of Community response,” he said.

“It was about making sure people who were of higher risk of contracting COVID-19 stayed home and were able to isolate.

“I know Wathaurong also did food drop-offs, there were online activities that people could do, and there were counsellors

and people that went door-to-door and were available to Communities.

“We were also pretty quick to get onto phone and telehealth consultations as well.

“Knowing your Community is incredibly important as it helps in knowing their needs.

“I would love to still be working here in five years’ time with more Aboriginal doctors side-by-side enjoying ourselves.”

Away from work, Dr Poliness makes the most of living near the Surf Coast.

“I’m a keen surfer, mostly Thirteenth Beach at Barwon Heads, it just depends on how long I’ve got, where I want to go, and

what I need to do,” he said.

Dr Poliness has even been known to conduct webinars from his favourite surfing spots, especially during the recent

COVID-19 lock-down.

“It’s nice and quiet and it’s a place where you can sit alone and feel good while doing some work and that’s something I’ve

definitely needed in 2020,” he said.

Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative CEO Lisa Briggs said she was extremely proud of the way her team came together in

response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr Ed has been an integral part of our organisation for 10 years and in that time has worked closely with our GPs and

Aboriginal Health Workers to ensure that our Community is receiving the best care that is culturally safe,” she said.

Tony McCartney, Executive Manager Health Services at Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative said as an ACCO, its values lie

in its commitment to its Community.

“The initiative of Closing the Gap means more than just improving the health of First Nations people, it is about making

sure that we as ACCOs are driving the decisions and delivery of programs to benefit our communities,” he said.

“This award recognises the contributions that Dr Ed has made as part of our Wathaurong health service in reaching those goals.”

Since 2005 Rural Workforce Agency Victoria has proudly hosted the annual Victorian Rural Health Awards to recognise the

outstanding contributions made by health professionals working in rural communities.

The Awards honour the exceptional medical specialists, GPs, nurses, Aboriginal Health Workers, general practices, practice

managers, allied health professionals, GP locums, and medical students working across rural Victoria.

The Victorian Rural Health Awards are supported by the Victorian Government.

There are approximately 90 GPs working in 23 ACCOs in Victoria.