December 13, 2021

Emiliano Zucchi: Through the lens of diversity

Emiliano Zucchi has been championing two streams of diversity at Northern Health for the last 15 years; the first as Head of the Transcultural and Language Services (TALS), for cultural and linguistic diversity and the second as the Head of Narrun Wilip-giin, for Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander diversity. It is a role that safeguards not only equitable access to health services for our culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal communities, but also staff diversity.

Says Emiliano, “Everything we do at Northern Health should be done by applying a diversity lens; this role covers cultural and First Peoples diversity, but at the same time it intersects with the Disability and LGBTIQA+ spaces.”

Emiliano has achieved a lot in his time here, but the two milestones he cherishes are the exponential growth of TALS from four to over 40 in-house staff, and from four in-house languages to 16; and the development and implementation of Northern Health’s first ever Reconciliation Action Plan.

Reflecting on his time here, Emiliano says, “I think it is fair to say that Northern Health – like many other health services – was a little behind in terms of diversity when I started in 2007. Coming from the university world, it was a bit of a shock for me.”

“It took a few years to ingrain cultural awareness and cultural competence concepts into the day to day operations of the health service; it then took some more time to extend the notion of diversity from cultural and linguistic diversity to disability and gender, and the intersectionality of these.”

“Today, Northern Health is a different place, mainly thanks to the work of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee,” he says. 

Emiliano can take pride in building teams which became the ‘agents of change’ at Northern Health.

Says Emiliano, “At TALS, Stefania Zen and Yue Hu are assets no other health service has; their tireless work has meant we have made a huge difference in the health outcomes of patients with limited English proficiency. When I started, if you were a patient with limited English proficiency, you would stay in hospital three days longer than an Australian-born patient. Today, we have cut that gap to half a day.”

“At Narrun Wilip-giin ASU, with Aunty Karen Bryant – an absolute legend- we have built a team, and put in place changes which have altered, for the better, the perception the Aboriginal community had of Northern Health. As a result, we became a much culturally safer place, and there is some evidence the work done is having a positive impact on health outcomes.”

In the Aboriginal Health space, Emiliano is most proud of the development and implementation of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

“People may not realise how difficult it is to get a RAP across the line. Within our first RAP, we have met most of our objectives: the team has grown, Aboriginal training has been made mandatory, cadetships have been introduced, an Aboriginal employment strategy was developed, new artwork and acknowledgement plaques were installed outside all wards and departments, we renamed the ASU ‘Narrun Wilip-giin’, opened Jornung Bik, the smoking ceremony garden, developed an Aboriginal patient portal and health scorecard, the MOU with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. I think Northern Health can be very proud of its work in this space, and I can tell you the community has noticed,” says Emiliano.

He adds, “I think that, as a health service, we are closer to accepting that diversity is not the exception, but the norm. We are all diverse in some way, and we should be very proud of it.”

“I am very grateful for the professional opportunities I have been given at Northern Health and I am particularly indebted to a few people along the way. I have already thanked them personally.”

Emiliano moves onto a new role as the CEO of Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV). He says, “The role at Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria will give me the opportunity to work toward social cohesion, and greater access to services, not just in health, but across the board. I will also advocate for greater diversity in positions of power, because leaders should be representative of society demographics.”

“Northern Health and ECCV have an MOU. I hope we will be able to continue working together in communicating effectively with CALD communities as was the case with the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. We could do the same with the Virtual ED, Wellness initiatives, and much more.”

Briana Baass, executive sponsor for TALS and Narrun Wilip-giin, said of Emiliano, “I am so thankful for my time working with Emiliano. He is extremely knowledgeable and, more importantly, he is generous with sharing his knowledge. I will be sad to see Emiliano go, but it is a credit to his hard work over many years that he has an exciting new chapter ahead of him.”

Please join us in wishing Emiliano the very best in his new role.