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The last thing Shantal expected…

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When Moulamein local, Shantal Sherman, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of this year, it was the last thing she expected to hear.

It was a distressing and tumultuous time made even harder by the fact she had two sons, Colton and Jasper who were just eight and six.

“It was devastating having to tell my two boys their mum had cancer,” Shantal said.

Having to undergo a bilateral mastectomy in Sydney in October, Shantal expected to have to travel for major surgery.

What she didn’t expect to have to do was travel for basic follow up wound care, when her hometown is supposed to have an operational, functional and staffed community health service.

Shantal developed an infection in her mastectomy site and consequently, had to drive an hour through floodwater to receive initial medical attention in Barham.

The GP believed, with antibiotics and regular dressing changes, the infection would clear. Shantal expected to receive that basic treatment in Moulamein.

Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Instead, Shantal faced a bureaucratic nightmare of horrendous proportions as she tried to receive follow up care in her hometown.

Unable to contact anyone for a week regarding the community health service, Shantal finally received a call back from the office in Wagga Wagga, who told her ‘don’t hold your breath’ when she asked about seeing a community health nurse in Moulamein.

“As a long-term Moulamein resident, I thought I was aware of the services offered in my local town and a few years ago, these services were outstanding and met by qualified, compassionate staff who assisted our community with a variety of nursing needs, including dressing changes.”

Shantal found out the hard way that is no longer the case.

Unable to get her wounds treated, Shantal continued to travel backwards and forwards to Barham through floodwater for a week before she saw an advertisement stating a community nurse would be available in Moulamein.  

Seeking an appointment, Shantal made six phone calls before she managed to reach someone in the office who told her Moulamein did not have a nurse and wouldn’t until they recruited a new staff member for the role.

“Even when I continued to tell this person the position was advertised locally and that a nurse was starting, she still wouldn’t believe me.

“I was treated so disrespectfully, it made me cry, and when this person finally decided to ask a supervisor, she turned around and told me yes, a nurse would be starting in Moulamein, and I could be booked in for one appointment.”

Shantal said she can’t believe the deterioration in rural health care and the lack of empathy and concern shown for patients.

“I can remember Moulamein Community Health offering fantastic health care service when my two boys were born.

“It was easy to just pop down to the bush nurse for basic treatment, saving us huge travel times in the car.

“Now we are lucky if the doors are even open and it’s just not good enough,” she said.

Concerned residents of Moulamein have been battling to protect their community health service since August 2021, when operations were reduced from nine days per fortnight to three days per fortnight.

The community was not consulted or informed of the decision, which left people facing travelling distances of at least 70km for basic health services like wound care, while the doors to community health remained closed.

“Our small country towns need to have their rural health service protected. They are an essential and much needed part of our community and we should be prioritising these services, rather than taking them away,” Shantal said.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 22 December 2022

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 22 December 2022.

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