When Nurse Navigator Todd Sellwood engages with drug and alcohol addicted patients presenting to PA Hospital’s Emergency Department, he says empathy is always his starting point.
“I don’t know the reason why a person has started drinking or using drugs, so I come from a position of having no judgment about their substance use,” he says.
“By showing compassion I find I can encourage people to open up and talk freely about their dependence, and that helps me better understand who it is I should refer them to for ongoing support.”
Mr Sellwood said he typically sees around 85 patients per month and is involved in delivering comprehensive alcohol and drug assessments, and harm reduction and minimisation interventions to help patients overcome their dependency and reduce the physical and psychological impacts of using.
“Usually I’ll only see patients once. If they are willing to make meaningful change, I will link them in with community alcohol and drug services or our mental health service who are best placed to provide ongoing care.”
He said the idea that people with alcohol and drug problems come from a specific socioeconomic background or life circumstance is misplaced.
“Alcohol and drug issues effect everybody. I see people from all walks of life, from as young as 16 to patients in their 70s, and it’s not just one population or patient cohort. We see people from all educational and socioeconomic backgrounds presenting to us in crisis, from solicitors to the homeless.”
Mr Sellwood said that since the beginning of the year, he has seen an increase in the number of people presenting to ED with alcohol problems.
“Alcohol-related presentations are up by 15 percent on pre-COVID levels. With COVID-19 more people have felt the effects of isolation and boredom, and a lack of purpose tends to drive reliance on substances people are using to ‘self-medicate’ deteriorating mental health. We have had a spike in patients presenting with suicidal ideation driven by substance use and the isolation, anxiety and fear of the unknown caused by coronavirus.”
Despite the often-challenging nature of his work, Todd says what he enjoys most about being a Nurse Navigator is the variety of tasks and effecting positive change in the lives of the patients who are referred to him for support.
“Every day is different, and I know I’m making a difference. Helping people get the support they need to overcome their health challenges and achieve their goals is a value that is strongly embedded within ED and one that I identify with.”