OPEN ACCESS MEETINGS: A Tangible Approach to Engagement

The 2018 Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium will this year be held over 15-17 October at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart, Tasmania.

Joining us at the conference is Mrs Jennifer Coote, District Consumer and Carer Coordinator at Western NSW Local Health District who will present on ‘OPEN ACCESS MEETINGS: A Tangible Approach to Engagement’.


Subsequent to a whole of service transformation to realign our practice with a recovery orientated model, we identified a need to broadly consult with consumers and carers. Undertaking a series of open access meetings ‘Coffee and Conversation’ is an opportunity for consumers and carers to meet their local decision makers.
WNSW LHD covers an area of 246, 676 square kilometres and boasts the largest rural mental health service in Australia with 11.1% of our population being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Open Access Meetings are a chance to engage locally with communities, reflecting on their needs and identifying service engagement opportunities early.

Main findings:
- Identified people who are keen to engage in more formal feedback mechanisms who we had not previously been able to reach.
- People attending reflected our diverse & remote population, including people who reported the necessity to travel over 400km to access specialist services.
- The need to simplify services and access mechanisms for people. Projects that are being developed as a result of the meetings are family and carer rooms, waiting rooms and consumer and carers interested in peer work opportunities. Additionally, we have identified prospective experience-based co-design projects.
- Senior management value consumer and carer engagement with the project continuing to be rolled out across the District.
- Local management and staff are able to explain the service model to the community and to reflect on service provision and how this meets the needs of consumers and carers. Whilst formal feedback mechanisms (such as YES) have their value, the power of ‘telling your story’ to a decision maker should never be disregarded.
The outcomes of the meetings are never what you expected and always present an opportunity for future engagement and enhancements in service provision.

Key Learnings:
1. The power and reach of informal engagement.
2. The benefit to the person in telling their story and feeling that they have been heard.
3. The positive impact hearing peoples' stories can have on clinicians and managers


Jennifer is the District Consumer and Carer Coordinator for WNSW LHD. Jennifer has a background of working in mental health and disability services for 20 years and is passionate about advocating for consumers and carers to be involved in their care and the care of their loved ones. Jennifer is thrilled to be involved in this phase of health service provision as consumers and carers increasingly agitate for the right to partner with the health service in their own care.

For more information on the upcoming 2018 Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium please visit



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