Bush Healing Farm – Setting the Record Straight

This week we received the information that the Ngunnawal Bush healing farm would not be operational as a Drug and Alcohol Residential Rehabilitation Service. The Chief Minister made the statement that the community was – in his words “confused about the role and purpose of the farm and its zoning”. Whilst the Health Minister claimed that a “precise model of care and nature of the service still had to be worked out”.

It is interesting that neither of these members of the Government is aware of what is going on. They seem to be completely misinformed about the history of Winnunga’s recent involvement with the Bush Healing Farm. So I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight, and perhaps educate them.

The Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm was begun as a concept in 2003, and has a chequered history. But at all times it has been referred to as a Drug and Alcohol Residential Rehabilitation Service. When, in 2015, it looked like it might finally be nearing completion, the government put out to tender a “Request for Proposal”, for a service-delivery, Model of Care.

This is where matters get interesting, because no proposals were received. Following the lack of applicants, and for the record, the Health Directorate met with Winnunga Aboriginal Health Service. They requested Winnunga to engage in a single select tender process for this purpose. Winnunga agreed.

Between February and December 2016 Winnunga engaged with ACT Health, ATODA and the Alcohol and other Drug services sector, on the establishment of an Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Residential Rehabilitation Service at the Bush Healing Farm.

In July 2016, ATODA and Winnunga were contracted and funded by ACT Health to prepare a Response to Request for Quotation. This was submitted in October 2016. It was an evidence-based, robust proposal. At no time was there an understanding by Winnunga that the Rehabilitation Service, to be delivered from the Bush healing farm, would include a detoxification component, nor methadone dosing on site.

Just for the record, Winnunga do not do community detoxification at their current premises. What Winnunga GP's do is to initiate and prescribe methadone, but then refer clients to the Canberra Hospital or community pharmacy for dosing. Winnunga do not have S8 drugs on their current premises. They cannot understand why ACT Health, or anyone else, would think that they would put their clients, or service, at risk, by doing so at the Bush Healing Farm.

In their extensive and comprehensive 120 page Response to Request for Quotation, Winnunga outlined the Mandatory specific eligibility for clients. This is consistent with the evidence for those for whom residential rehab is indicated. It also outlines the exclusions, to ensure that the best possible implementation and outcomes are achieved.

These exclusions include Opioid Maintenance Therapy clients, and Clients whose behaviour presents an unacceptable management, or safety risk, within the Bush Healing Farm context.

Winnunga always had the best interest of their community uppermost in their mind – which is of course based on their extensive experience and expertise, and long history of working with their community.

The Staffing structure was developed to be consistent with the Response to Request Quotation. This included access to 1 GP and 1 dual diagnosis nurse as well as a team of 10 Indigenous social health workers. The role of the GP was to provide holistic psychotherapy – as per the original intentions at the Farm. This included Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal and Narrative Therapies.

On 2 February 2017, ACT Health met Winnunga to inform them that the zoning for the Bush Healing Farm site, to deliver an Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Residential Rehabilitation Service, may not be possible – to the extent counselling services were not allowable. Since which time, Winnunga has not been kept up to date of any further developments.

That is, until the meeting mentioned by the Minister, on the 8th of May. At which documentation was provided of a new Draft Service Model. Winnunga was not aware this new document had been developed, nor been approached to engage with the development of the document.

From this history, it would appear that the Minster and her Directorate are not aware of the requirements under ACT Health’s own letter of contract with Winnunga. Or what is required to run a Residential Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Service. We call on the Minister and Chief Minister to please stop blaming the Indigenous community, but in particularly Winnunga, for their directorate’s failings in relation to the Bush healing farm, and retract their incorrect statements made during the course of this week.