Close The Gap Day Both a Celebration and a Solemn Moment

“I remember Aunty Marion (Pearce) talking about how frightening this hospital was in the past, and how troubling it was for people. I remember people used to tell me they would not go to the hospital because it’s where people went to die, and because they weren’t treated right.”

“That’s all changed.”

In front of a large Close The Gap Day gathering of Gunaikurnai elders and family, BRHS staff and healthcare workers on Thursday, Dr Jane Greacen reflected on a past in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often did not have the same access to appropriate healthcare that non-Indigenous Australians did.

“This has been a huge gap that is steadily being closed,” she said. “For many years people worked hard to make this hospital a place where people feel safe, and where they know they will be respected and looked after.”

Dr Greacen is loved and renowned locally for her role in improving health services for the Indigenous community in East Gippsland.

In addition to an almost two-decade career at the Gippsland & East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-Operative (known by all as GEGAC), in 2008 Dr Greacen helped form the Centre for Excellence for Aboriginal Health in East Gippsland.

And in 2017, she opened a private clinic in Bairnsdale focused on Aboriginal health.

“It’s called Dr Jane’s Place because that’s what my patients were calling it,” Dr Greacen said.

Announcing her retirement next month, Dr Greacen said that, although gains had been made, there was still more to be done to achieve equity in health access and outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“I would like to think that all mainstream health services could be culturally safe and respectful places, committed to Closing The Gap.”

The Close The Gap campaign was launched in 2007, to help address alarming disparities in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Most Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world — but this is not true for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can expect to live at least 10 years fewer than other Australians.
  • Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illnesses such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
  • The mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is on par with some of the world’s most impoverished nations.

At Close The Gap Day on Thursday, BRHS CEO Robyn Hayles praised a number of initiatives at the health service in recent years to improve Indigenous health outcomes, including the expansion of the Aboriginal Health Unit, the provision of free medications through the Geewan Scripts program, and cultural understanding and awareness training for staff.

But, Mrs Hayles said, Close The Gap Day remained both a celebration and a solemn moment.

“It is clear that progress needs to be faster, although there have been good things achieved,” she said. “It would be great if there didn’t need to be a Close The Gap Day – that this disparity didn’t exist,” she said. “That is what BRHS will continue working toward.”

To learn more about the support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and family at BRHS, visit

To learn more about Closing The Gap, visit

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