Sarah Brown knows being on-country together is central to Western Desert people’s wellbeing.
The winner of HESTA Nursing and Midwifery Awards Nurse of the Year 2017 and devoted partner of the region’s Aboriginal communities learnt this truth early in her career. And she has made sure it informs every part of the innovative, life-saving Western Desert Dialysis service (known as the ‘Purple House’) she leads in Alice Springs.
An Aboriginal community controlled health organisation, Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku is the product of Sarah’s close collaboration with Pintupi Luritja community leaders in Central Australia.
Sarah was nominated for bringing holistic, culturally appropriate social support, allied health and dialysis to Aboriginal people in remote areas.
“The services we provide mean that people experiencing kidney disease can live in their remote communities and receive dialysis treatment on-country,” Sarah explains. “They live longer, have a better quality of life and an opportunity to pass on their heritage and cultural knowledge to their children and grandchildren.
“I have had the opportunity to help build up an organisation from the start, based on hope, empathy, family and country. It’s a real community effort. Helping people from the most remote part of Australia to get back to country and thrive is fantastic!”
Reaching epidemic levels in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, chronic kidney disease is a key challenge in closing the health gap. Under Sarah’s determined leadership Western Desert Dialysis has expanded to nine remote communities throughout the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Sarah also helped renal patients from Central Australia to set up their own consumer group, the Central Australian Renal Voice, to advocate for better services and support.But more action is urgently needed – and that’s where Sarah’s HESTA accolade, funded by proud awards sponsor ME–the bank for you, comes in.
“We’re building our first South Australian dialysis service, in the Pukatja community,” Sarah says.
Sarah finds constant inspiration in the resilience of her patients and her colleagues’ incredible work over her three decades of nursing.“I’ve worked with many remarkable, creative, empathetic and clever nurses over the past 30 years,” she says. “They have advocated for people with no voice and cared for people at the most vulnerable times in their lives. Nurses are usually in the background, getting on with things, not making a fuss.
“I am so proud of what we’ve done together at the Purple House and all that I have learned and shared over the years.”