June 6, 2023

We Are Northern: This is the Disability Liaison Officer Program

The Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) program was established in 2020 to improve health care accessibility for people with disabilities, with DLOs working at every hospital within Victoria.

At Northern Health, there are two DLOs, Simone Ortiz and Maria Bowman, who have both worked for Northern Health for several years, and have backgrounds in social work.

During the peak of the pandemic, the DLO program became a primary contact for people with disabilities wanting access to COVID-19 vaccination. The program received approximately 1,000 referrals during this period, from people living within the Northern Health catchment, but not necessarily all Northern Health patients or clients.

Many patients with disabilities struggled to access vaccinations during this time, often due to a multitude of challenges in leaving their homes. A home-based vaccination program was established, along with other, more accessible and creative means of supporting those wanting vaccination. These initiatives resulted in the program achieving great success and a high vaccination rate for this vulnerable group.

Over the past 12 months, the DLOs have returned to providing support to patients with disabilities within Northern Health, aged between five and 65 years. On average, Northern Health has one in five patients presenting with disability.

The team recently supported a patient with a disability requiring surgery. The patient was non-verbal and fearful of hospitals, which resulted in her refusing to attend or absconding appointments several times. The DLOs were able to support the patient and her family prior to the admission, provided a quiet room and comfort items and liaised with treating staff at every point of care, thus making the whole experience easier for both the patient and the hospital staff. This resulted in a successfully completed surgery.

The DLOs at Northern Health work closely with other DLOs across the state to keep abreast of initiatives and improvements. This collaboration allows them to improve practices and tackle challenges for Northern Health patients.

In 2023, the DLOs are excited to roll out their new Disability Action Plan (DAP) 2023-26. The new DAP was completed in consultation with a planning team member, as well as with the help of consumers with lived experience of disability. The overall purpose is to continue to improve access, inclusion and participation of all patients and employees with disability across Northern Health.

For referrals and further information, please click here.

Pictured: Maria Bowman and Simone Ortiz