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Introducing the Winners of the 2024 Victorian Rural Health Awards

Outstanding Contribution by a Rural Medical Specialist Award

Dr Adam Straub, Grampians Health Service, Ballarat and Ballarat Community Health, Lucas 

Dr. Adam Straub is an Addiction Medicine Physician and General Physician. Starting his career in critical care medicine, he pivoted towards Addiction Medicine, driven by his experiences in Emergency Departments and Victoria Police.

Adam is a dedicated advocate for opioid agonist therapy and harm minimisation education, and is the sole Addiction Medicine Physician in regional Victoria, providing essential care at Grampians Health Service, St John of God Ballarat and at Ballarat Community Health, leading the Opioid Management Clinic servicing the Grampians Loddon Mallee region.

During the Loddon, Campaspe, Murray and Wimmera flood emergency in October 2022, Adam travelled to Echuca to deliver a pop-up LAIB clinic.

Adam is well-recognised for his commitment to improving addiction care and community well-being in the region.

Outstanding Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Award

Ms Shannon BalfourRumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative, Mooroopna

Shannon Balfour, a proud First Nations woman, is the Manager at the Woongi Unit at Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative in Shepparton-Mooroopna. Here, Shannon oversaw various mental health and social and emotional well-being programs, including Alcohol and Other Drug support, counselling, post-discharge care from Goulburn Valley Area Mental Health, family violence, and other healing programs.

Shannon has bolstered group yarning sessions, clinical care, language lessons, and holistic approaches to wellbeing. She has forged partnerships with mainstream services, securing a psychiatrist, linking Woongi to First Nations patient discharge plans, and partnering with the University of Melbourne and local TAFE for student placements. She has significantly increased service use by the local First Nations community, with the Woongi Unit now triaging referrals, checking in on waitlisted patients, employing additional staff, and innovating new strategies to meet community needs. Shannon also serves on the Board of Management for the Bridge Youth Services in Shepparton and actively engages in the local community.

 

 

Outstanding Contribution by a Rising Star Award

Dr Felix Ritson, Lister House Clinic, Horsham

Serving as a first-year FSP Programme medical doctor at Lister House Clinic, Horsham, Dr. Felix Ritson has displayed exceptional commitment to patient care and made meaningful contributions to his practice and the community.

Over the past 12 months, he has actively engaged in in-house training programs, particularly in mental health, reflecting his holistic approach and genuine concern for his patients. Felix often tackles challenging cases, including those of methadone and drugs of dependence, proactively upskilling himself to assist these patients.
His involvement in mentoring medical students and community initiatives such as the DISS (Doctors in School) program highlights his commitment to the future of healthcare and the community.

Outside of work, Felix is involved in community well-being initiatives like the Men’s Shed and Men’s Talk groups. Felix’s colleagues say that having him at their practice is “the only reward we need!”
His commitment and perspective towards community welfare makes him truly deserving of the Rising Star Award!

Outstanding Contribution by a Rural Multidisciplinary Health Team Award

The PACE Team

The PACE Team at Alpine Health, supported by partner private practices, delivers cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation in the Alpine Shire. The team includes Roslyn Bloomer, Nurse Coordinator; Leeah Cooper, exercise physiologist; Fiona Miller, physiotherapist; and Julie Blake, physiotherapist.

They are supported by other Team members, including a Private Pharmacist, and their skills extend to Critical Care Nursing, Health Service Management, Training and Assessment and Nutrition.

The PACE Team is “Tiny but Mighty”, operating at three community-based locations, Bright, Mt Beauty and Myrtleford, where the team has helped over 700 participants significantly improve their quality of life. Their innovative, flexible model of care, including telehealth and tailored programs, has led to a marked decrease in hospital admissions for COPD among Alpine Shire residents. To the PACE team the best acknowledgement was from one of their recent participants, who said, “I can breathe again!”

The core PACE team is: 
Roslyn Bloomer – Nurse Coordinator, Alpine Health
Leeah Cooper – Exercise Physiologist, Equilibre Health
Fiona Miller – Physiotherapist, Kiewa Valley Sports & Spinal Physiotherapy 
Julie Blake – Physiotherapist, Ovens Valley Physio and Pilates. 

Outstanding Contribution to Rural Allied Health Award

Ms Jessica Moller, Gippsland Lakes Complete Health, East Gippsland

Jessica Moller, Lead Clinician Occupational Therapy at Gippsland Lakes Complete Health, East Gippsland, is a highly experienced health professional in rural, regional, and remote Occupational Therapy. Jess supported a fly-in-fly-out OT service partnership with Mallacoota District Health Service and worked tirelessly after the 2019/2020 summer bushfires in Mallacoota to ensure clients’ recovery in Far East Gippsland continued. She has implemented innovative programs and models of care, including a minor home modification ‘Rails Clinic’, personal alarm, wheelchair, and low-cost Assistive Technology clinics. Partnering with local bush nursing services, Jess has provided outreach services to Buchan, Gelantipy, and most recently Dargo Bush Nursing Service. 

A highlight of Jess’s work is her contribution to the development of a workforce pipeline of Occupational Therapists in Gippsland Lakes Complete Health’s cadetship program. Her efforts have significantly improved access to vital services and supports in East Gippsland.

Beyond her role, Jess helped establish a Quality of Life fund and partnered with the East Gippsland Shire Council to develop a library of resources for the community.

Outstanding Contribution to Rural Outreach Provision Award

Dr Stephen Tudge, East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative, Bairnsdale & Ramahyuck Aboriginal Cooperative, Sale

Dr Stephen Tudge is a dedicated ENT specialist who has significantly contributed to improving ear health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Gippsland. He plays a crucial role in the Healthy Ears, Better Hearing – Better Listening (HEBHBL) program, visiting Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative (GEGAC) in Bairnsdale and Ramahyuck Aboriginal Cooperation in Sale twice a year. Stephen provides consultations with families, particularly with young children to minimise the risk and impact of ear disease.

Outside of the Outreach programs, Stephen supports patients requiring surgical intervention via a bulk-billed pathway, where it would otherwise not be available.

His commitment and support are highly valued by the Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and all his patients.
 

Outstanding Contribution to Rural Practice Management Award

Ms Merinda Harrison-Drake OAM, Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative, Mooroopna

Merinda Harrison-Drake OAM, a proud Yorta Yorta and Gunaikurnai woman, is a qualified Aboriginal Health Practitioner and Clinical Practice Manager at Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative in Mooroopna. With 17 years of experience in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations across rural Victoria, Merinda is dedicated to strengthening Aboriginal-led health and well-being.

In 2020 Merinda received an Order of Australia as recognition for her years of hard work. She continues to be a role model inspiring her team. Rumbalara’s medical clinic has over 4,000 active patients as a result of her efforts in re-engaging the community. Merinda has singlehandedly transitioned the workforce at Rumblara Medical Clinic from relying on locum doctors and casual nurses to now reaping continuity of care from having permanent access to GPs, nurse practitioners, practice nurses, chronic care and health promotion staff, early years staff, mental health nurses, psychologists, podiatrists, diabetes educators, maternal child health nurses, paediatricians, endocrinologists and nephrologists. 

Merinda has also established a late evening clinic, giving more accessibility to health services.

Outstanding Contribution by a Rural Health Consumer Advocate Award

Ms Nola Andrews, Volunteer Consumer Advocate, Mansfield District Hospital, Mansfield

Nola Andrews has been a pivotal member of Mansfield District Hospital’s consumer representative group for over 7 years. She brings her lived experience as a consumer, and carer to her roles on the Safety & Quality Committee and Community Advisory Committee, where she actively contributes to various initiatives.

Nola’s passion for quality resident-centred aged care extends to her involvement at the Bindaree Nursing Home and Buckland House. She also represents consumers at regional forums and serves on the Hume Health Partnership Steering Committee.

Outstanding Contribution by a Rural Primary Care Nurse or Midwife Award

Ms Robyn Butler, Inverloch Healthcare, Inverloch

Robyn Butler, Clinical Nurse Manager at Inverloch Healthcare, brings joy to patients with her singing and exceptional people skills. Since 1984, she has dedicated her career to rural and regional communities. Between 1997 and 2018, Robyn pioneered the Practice Nurse Program at Leongatha Healthcare, overseeing its growth to 16 nurses.

Joining Inverloch Healthcare in 2018, she played a vital role in establishing the new clinic by establishing clinical pathways and processes. She is an asthma educator and nurse immuniser and has other expertise in incontinence and advanced care planning, to name a few.

Robyn is actively involved in the South Gippsland region, working tirelessly advocating for patients and helping them navigate complex systems. She is much loved, trusted, and respected within the broader community for her professionalism, care, and compassion.

Outstanding Contribution by a Rural GP or Rural Generalist Award

Dr David Wilson, Lister House Medical Clinic, Horsham

Dr David Wilson has dedicated over 34 years to rural healthcare in Horsham. Initially a GP, he later specialised in obstetrics, pediatrics, and supervision, training other GPs.

David served as the director of Intern training at the local base hospital for over 20 years, and now leads general ruralist training in Pediatrics and Palliative Care. His commitment extends to educating nursing and midwifery students, and has been involved in the delivery of over 10,000 births in the Wimmera region! David’s skills extended as a police surgeon supporting forensic investigations. 

He ran the local asthma camp for kids with asthma in Mildura. He was also instrumental in delivering bone marrow collection and registration, extending his humanitarian efforts with his own bone marrow donation. David also recently took on additional responsibilities following a colleague’s tragic passing. He has been a beloved figure in his community and is truly deserving of this award!

Outstanding Contribution by a Mentor or Supervisor Award

A/Prof Shabna Rajapaksa, Rural Clinical School, University of Melbourne, Ballarat, Grampians Health, Ballarat Base Hospital, St John of God Health Care, Paediatrics, Ballarat

Associate Professor Shabna Rajapaksa is a distinguished Paediatrician of over 10 years, specialising in respiratory issues and allergies. Shabna has worked extensively in rural and regional Victoria, notably at Ballarat Health Services and Grampians Health, where she serves as Co-Head of Paediatrics. Her commitment to medical education is evident through her role as Deputy Director of Medical Student Education at the University of Melbourne’s Rural Clinical School in Ballarat. She has mentored hundreds of medical students, providing guidance and support. 

Her commitment extends beyond clinical duties, such as organising additional learning opportunities and advocating for students’ needs. Her passion for mentorship and community health has earned her recognition as a dedicated clinician and educator, making her a highly respected figure in the field. Her dedication to patient care and education makes her a deserving candidate for the Mentor and Supervisor Award.

Length of Service Awards

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Dr Clare Mooney, Hopkins Medical Centre, Warrnambool

 

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Dr Robert Brun, Kyabram Regional Clinic

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Dr Michael Pring, Bellarine Medical Group 

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Dr Peter Stevens, Heyfield Medical Centre

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Dr Christopher Lourensz, Coster Street Medical Practice, Benalla

Snezana is a Human Resources leader with more than 15 years of experience in management, playing a pivotal role in driving team transformations across diverse industries, including FMCG, automotive, government, and non-profit sectors.

With a curiosity for business and its associated complexities, Snezana fosters collaborative partnerships to cultivate a highly motivated workforce that effectively executes strategic plans.

Msc (Fin), FCCA, FGIA, CA

Shay brings over 20 years of financial
management experience in commercial and not-for-profit organizations. He has a
rich and varied experience in multiple finance and leadership roles in the
United Kingdom and Australia, including CFO, GM Finance & IT, Commercial
Manager Operations, Finance Manager and Accountant.

His extensive leadership experience is
augmented by an FGIA, FCCA, CA, a Masters in Finance and an undergraduate degree in
accounting and finance.

RN, GradDip(Health Promotion), PRINCE2, Mini MBA

Kate is a Registered Nurse highly experienced in health promotion and project management. Her people and program management skills enable her to be agile and adaptable while maintaining an outcomes focus on improving quality access to primary healthcare.

Kate’s extensive experience working with all levels of government, the community and stakeholders across the sector have provided her with insights into the challenges rural communities and health professionals face. Kate has led the design and delivery of many innovative and strategic health promotion and grants programs, supporting better access to health services, health information and activities across communities. Whilst at RWAV, Kate has led the transformation of the RWAV grants program, enhanced the administration of a number of programs and developed the RWAV allied health portfolio. She has also led the development of the RWAV research program of activities.

Having worked at RWAV since 2020, Kate will continue positively influencing the rural healthcare workforce and access to services.

Social Work (BA Hons), DipSW

With a background in social work and a proven record in recruitment, project management, and business development, Jo brings strategic leadership and a wealth of experience in driving positive outcomes within the health, human services, and State Government sectors.

Jo specialises in managing health professional recruitment and outreach programs, including the More Doctors for Rural Australia and 3GA programs. Her focus is on implementing innovative workforce strategies and clinical governance to bolster RWAV’s mission of enhancing healthcare accessibility in rural and regional Victoria.

Having previously excelled at RWAV, Jo spearheaded successful internal change initiatives while fostering strong relationships with external stakeholders. Her efforts consistently align with RWAV’s strategic direction, ensuring a cohesive approach to driving impactful change.

Beyond her professional expertise, Jo’s passion lies in uniting communities and championing positive transformations in rural healthcare in Victoria.

Martin is a governance professional and lawyer with experience in private practice and in-house legal roles. He has been a company secretary for public and private sector organisations across a range of industries including VicTrack, Regis Healthcare Limited and Dairy Australia Limited. He holds Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Melbourne, a Graduate Diploma in Applied Corporate Governance from the Governance Institute of Australia (GIA) and is a fellow of the GIA.

With a rich background of consulting and in-house people and culture roles with the corporate, government and community sectors, Andrea is responsible for leading the implementation of RWAV’s People and Culture strategy, policies, processes, functions and team.

Andrea has significant experience in leading teams across culture, capability, diversity, equity, leadership, organisational development and learning programs as well as core human resources partnering.

With a strong focus on building and maintaining psychologically safe organisations, Andrea’s team is dedicated to ensuring that RWAV is a place where people can work well and be well at work.

B Comm MPP EdD DipEd MAICD

Rosemary has had a varied career as an academic teaching economics, public policy and industrial relations, and as a consultant, advocate, health union official and as a director.

She brings strong governance and strategic skills to the Board, as well as knowledge and depth of experience in health policy, economics and investment.

Rosemary was a Director of Aware Super for nine years, and Chair of the Investment Committee for three years. She was also a member of the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee, the Governance Committee and the REM and HR Committee. Rosemary is currently a member of the Investment Committee of Cbus.

She was the Secretary of the Victorian Psychologists Association Inc for 20 years and knows first-hand the difficulties in attracting and retaining health professionals in rural and regional Victoria.

Dr Louise Manning is a rural GP Obstetrics trainee practising in Central Victoria where she delivers general practice, obstetric and sexual health services. Growing up in a small town she has lived experience of the difficulties accessing healthcare in rural and regional areas, and is dedicated to advocating for equitable health outcomes regardless of geography.

Louise is also a Board Director of the Rural Doctors’ Association of Victoria.

BAppSci GradDipBus MBus GAICD FIML

John Biviano is an experienced senior executive who has held many senior roles in government (Health Dept) and also in professional associations related to healthcare. Until recently, John was the CEO of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, where he oversaw the digitisation of a range of Member offerings, including aspects of training. 

BA (Politics/Philosophy) BEc GDipBus MBA GAICD FGIA

Roger is an accomplished CEO, Non-Executive Director and Chair with experience in the health, human services, law enforcement, education, transport, and environmental industries – across private, public sector and not-for-profit organisations

.He brings strong governance experience, commercial acumen, risk management and strategy skills combined with a passion for innovation and business development having also been Chair of numerous Finance, Audit, Risk, Investment and Community Advisory Committees.

BMBS MBA FRACP FRACMA FAICD FIML

Assoc Prof Phelps has practiced as a Gastroenterologist and Acute Physician in regional Victoria for more than 20 years.

He trained in safety and quality at Dr Brent James’ Institute at Intermountain Healthcare in the US and has held management and leadership roles in Victoria and Tasmania. More recently he completed a two-year project as Director of Clinical Governance for Central Adelaide Local Health Network.

Grant currently works as an independent consultant providing advice to hospitals and organisations on clinical leadership and safety and quality

LLB BSc MMgt (Strategic Foresight) GAICD

As a lawyer and business consultant Jane has worked with company boards and senior management across a range of areas including IP commercialisation, internet-based businesses, healthcare products/services, privacy and data/IT security. Jane is currently general counsel for .id Consulting – population demographers, economists and forecasters.

Jane served as a director of BreastScreen Victoria for 10 years, is a current director of Ballarat Health Services and chairs RWAV’s Governance Committee.

BMed MMedSci FRACGP FARGP FACRRM DipPractDerm DipMedHyp DipFP DipBusAdmin GAICD

Assoc Prof Rawlin is an experienced General Practitioner and medical educator. He is currently in clinical general practice in suburban Melbourne and previously practiced in rural Victoria for 10 years.

Assoc Prof Rawlin is Chair of the General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaborative and a past Chair of the Mental Health Professionals Association and is a board member of the Mental Health Professionals Network. He is also the Medical Director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Victoria.
He is a member of the RACGP Victoria Council.

CPA
Albert Giorgini is the Senior Advisor to CEO at RWAV.

As an experienced finance executive, with an extensive career in public transport and in the automotive and industrial gas sectors, Albert has honed his skills in driving financial performance improvements with a commercial and business transformation focus.

Through his strategic financial skills, Albert has demonstrated an exceptional capacity to lead and develop large teams in complex and changing environments to achieve the financial and regulatory requirements of the business. His extensive experience has given him a deep understanding of the industry and its challenges, equipping him with the expertise to drive impactful change.

Albert has highly developed communication and stakeholder management skills to support his strong planning, analytical and financial performance improvement acumen, always striving to create innovative solutions that drive growth and success.

BBus(HRM)

Lauren commenced in the role of Manager People and Culture in August 2018 and is responsible for leading the implementation of RWAV’s People and Culture strategy, policies, processes, functions and team.

Lauren’s team is committed to implementing activities and initiatives to support the achievement of RWAV’s strategies and strengthen RWAV’s position as an ‘Employer of Choice’.

Lauren is an experienced Manager and HR professional, with a career spanning the professional services, automotive, defence, and not-for-profit sectors.

BHlthSci(Hons) MPH PostGradDipMgt GAICD AFCHSM

Lauren Cordwell commenced in the role of Chief Executive Officer in August 2023. She took on the role of Acting CEO in April 2023 and previously served as the General Manager since February 2020.
Lauren has leadership responsibilities for strategy, communications, data, stakeholder engagement and program delivery.

Lauren’s team is committed to supporting communities in rural and regional Victoria to have timely access to affordable and safe health care.

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