Wimmera mental health nurses face uncertainty for client well-being with new STEMPI model set to be introduced on July 1

Horsham Tristar Medical Group clinic. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI
Horsham Tristar Medical Group clinic. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI

THE future of mental health nursing services in the Wimmera is uncertain due to a cut in funding.

In April, it was announced that Western Victoria Primary Health Network would implement its new Services and Treatment for Enduring and Persistent Mental Illness model from July 1.

The STEPMI model will replace the network’s current Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program (MHNIP).

Tristar Medical Group mental health services manager Brett McKinnon said the new model would cut the group’s annual funding it received from Western Victoria PHN from $200,640 to $138,500 in 2018/19.

Furthermore, he said the group’s funding would be further cut in 2019/20 to $123,111 annually.

“All Tristar PHN funded services will be gone from July 1,” he said.

“The new model has 55 patients to be serviced from an out of town based provider who is still yet too advise staff employed in a local Horsham context.

“Our concern is that the government is operating in almost stealth like fashion to reduce funding.

“The sad thing is that they are going to end up paying more in the long-run with impacts to be felt in the acute sector due to an increase in the burden of illness through lack of adequate resourcing of primary care providers.

“There have been recent additional funds released by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to the Western Victorian region and we are still yet to see where and how they will be apportioned.”

He said the changes would adversely affect Wimmera residents who relied on the group’s mental health nursing services.

“We have been a provider of credentialed mental health nursing services for the last eight years in the region and regularly manage up to 300 to 500 cases per year,” he said.

“Currently we have two highly skilled and experienced mental health nurses who work out of Horsham whose services will be segwayed into other areas and regions by virtue of this loss of funding.”

Credentialed mental health nurse Irina Bennewitz works out of the Horsham clinic, while Alistair Mason works out of both Horsham and Ararat.

Ms Bennewitz said she was greatly concerned for her clients.

“We work with clients face-to-face, so we can see from a grassroots level how these changes will affect them,” she said.

“We know that from July 1 this new model will be introduced and we have had no indication from the PHN about what that will mean for the transition of care for our clients.

“All our clients have been notified that there will be changes, but because we don’t have any solid information about the transition process, we can’t tell them what those changes are.

When this funding model ceases, we’ll be effectively no longer employed.

Horsham mental health nurse Irina Bennewitz

“We're hoping to receive an outline of what the model is so we can pass it on to our clients and the GPs we work with.”

Ms Bennewitz said she consulted an average of eight clients per day, while Mr Mason often consulted more than 10.

“We both have full caseloads; we’ve definitely had no shortage of clients coming in,” she said.

“Often wait times can be three to four weeks.

“We have a commitment to the well-being of our clients and there’s a certain rapport that we have with them.”

She said there was uncertainty about the future of her job.

“I might lose my job as other nurses already have, but there’s no certainty,” she said.

“When this funding model ceases, we’ll be effectively no longer employed.

“The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch is involved in this; while ANMF assistant secretary Pip Carew and Brett have in communication with all levels of government.”

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy said mental health was an important issue in her electorate.

“Federal psycho-social community mental health funding is available, but for over a year now Daniel Andrew’s has been dithering in finalising a funding agreement for Victoria,” she said.

“This has caused enormous uncertainty and distress across the community mental health sector.

“Daniel Andrews needs to understand the value of the community mental health sector and provide funding certainty for services that local people with mental illness desperately need.

“The Liberal Nationals recognise that community mental health services have a clear role to play in supporting people with mental illness and psychiatric disability, and understands the need to keep people well rather than only providing care when in crisis.”

The Wimmera Mail-Times contacted Western Victoria PHN for comment.