A few years ago Indigenous elder Dolleita McAvoy’s life was spiralling out of control.

She was battling an alcohol addiction, was a heavy smoker and often sleeping rough while also in and out of hospital due to her poorly managed but life-threatening emphysema. 

Ms McAvoy said her future looked bleak and her health was continuing to deteriorate until she reached out for support.

“Before I had all different nationalities trying to help me,” Ms McAvoy said. 

“I don’t want them coming and telling me what to do when they don’t understand my culture or that the mortality rate is higher than theirs.”

She was put in touch with the Integrated Team Care (ITC) program delivered by NAPHL. 

The program has helped her manage her health conditions while accessing culturally appropriate medical care.

“I’d rather not accept help. I’d always feel like there were people worse than me,” Ms McAvoy said. 

“I would get exacerbated just walking to the shops and I had a number of falls in the shopping centre.

“I couldn’t even comb my hair I’d get so out of breath.

“I was in and out of hospital a lot back then, even Christmas I was in there.I cried when I was offered this help.”

While Ms McAvoy is now managing her health with support from the ITC program, her story is indicative of a much bigger problem.

In Queensland the estimated life expectancy gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples compared to non-indigenous Australians is 7.8 years for males and 6.7 years for females.

NAPHL Indigenous Care Coordinator Stacey Simbolo (pictured above with Ms McAvoy) is part of the ITC team helping Ms McAvoy to manage her health.

She said NAIDOC Week was an important time to celebrate success stories in the fight to close the life expectancy gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians while also acknowledging there is more work to be done.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are some of the most at-risk people in our communities,” Mrs Simbolo said. 

“The work we do through the ITC program is just one part of a large effort around our country to help close the life expectancy gap and I feel it’s important to celebrate the small steps towards equitable health outcomes for our people.

“Dolleita has been a well known and highly respected advocate for indigenous people in our community, including at the Townsville Murri Court, and it’s really good to see her putting herself first after years of looking after others.”

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Under the ITC program, Mrs Simbolo supported Ms McAvoy to understand the severity of her health conditions, book and get transport to health appointments, understand her aged care funding package, and get in contact with other appropriate services.

“When I first met her, she had very little hope and now she is enjoying a much better quality of life,” Mrs Simbolo said.

“Now she can go for walks, is safe in her own home and is even looking forward to the future, like being able to visit her family around Australia when the restrictions lift.

“Her emergency department visits have decreased dramatically and she doesn’t need to see the lung specialist as frequently now that her emphysema is well managed, in turn putting less strain on our health system.

“She now has the confidence and knowledge to fight for her needs and doesn’t need me there to advocate for her, which is probably the most rewarding part of this work.”

NAPHL's ITC program is supported by the Northern Queensland PHN with funding from the Australian Government.