NSW Rural and Remote health workers and the burden of care in the drought: who cares for the carers? A report on the CRANAplus Bush Support Service 2019 Drought Support Roadshow across the state.

Dr Annmaree Wilson1,Dr Yoni Luxford1

1CRANAplus Bush Support Service, Cairns, Australia


The entire state of NSW is in drought. The human impacts of this environmental disaster in rural and remote communities are only beginning to be understood. It is no surprise that health workers are overloaded with demand for services in affected communities. Not surprisingly they also deal with their personal responses to the situation. Little is known about who cares for the carers during drought?

CRANAplus Bush Support Services has a unique depth of expertise in providing psychological support to rural and remote health workers. A BSS team of clinical psychologists and Aboriginal health workers delivered a Roadshow of mental health interventions and workshops across rural and remote NSW. Using a best practice/mindful/strengths-based approach to raise professional and personal awareness, the project aimed to increase resilience-building skills, capacity to manage stress and the burden of care associated with working in drought-affected communities.

Preliminary findings show that responding to drought is a workforce development issue. Health workers responded positively to the Roadshow. Findings include: participant’s significant appreciation of the team’s deep understanding of issues faced by rural and remote health workers; strategies provided were immediately useful to participants; and unlike other visiting drought support programs, BSS offered immediate and ongoing phone follow up.  Further, the team was confronted by tensions between resilience of health workers (mostly women) and the extent of the burden of care they carried for the drought. The team was exposed to racism while delivering the project, mostly in the form of unconscious bias. Predominantly there was a lack of awareness of how the drought was affecting Aboriginal people, including AHWs; statements that they might be affected at all, were shocking.

At the conference we will discuss our findings in relation to key health and social policy and with evidence from the literature make recommendations for further development.