Celebrating NAIDOC Week: Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service

Posted on 3rd November 2020

7 dentists and nurses

Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service (DYHS) is a not-for-profit, community-controlled organisation that has operated on Noongar land for more than 40 years.

DYHS offers a range of primary healthcare services to Indigenous Australians in an environment that facilitates culturally safe and secure practice. This encompasses the provision of free dental care to patients aged 13 years and above, inclusive of exams, scale and cleans, extractions, root canal therapy, crown and bridgework and dentures (with the exception of orthodontics and implant therapy). The clinic has three chairs offering both emergency and booked appointments.

Dr Reena Kataria has worked at DYHS for more than 10 years, having started as an associate and eventually stepping up to the role of principal dentist. “What I enjoy most about being part of the DYHS team is that it is a community-based service where the day-to-day operations are run by leaders and elders of the Noongar community,” she says.

Dr Daniel Hunt, a Jaru and Indjibandji man, has worked at DYHS as a general dentist for just over two years and has recently returned as a medical general practitioner. “The provision of a culturally safe healthcare service involves creating an environment where there is no assault, challenge or denial of our patient’s identity and experience,” he says. “This includes a strong focus on yarning (a conversational process, which includes sharing stories and development of knowledge) and building rapport with patients, and is facilitated by a mix of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous staff, all of whom undergo cultural-sensitivity training during the commencement of their employment.

“Unconscious biases exist within all people (despite how ‘woke’ we may feel),” Daniel adds. “This is a reality for many Indigenous patients, thus the popularity of Aboriginal community controlled healthcare organisations, such as Derbarl Yerrigan Health Services.”

Contemporary healthcare dictates equity as good practice, but equitable treatment and care is not enough to overcome the weighty healthcare disadvantage that exists in the oral health disease burden in Indigenous Australians. This is where good foundations of clinical care, education and time can have everlasting and positive impacts. Dr Borut Klopcic, who has been at DYHS for over 12 months, is one of the lead educational facilitators for the dental assistant, oral health and dental students, offering mentorship and guidance in ensuring a culturally appropriate approach to dental treatment.

The newest addition to the team is Dr Ashlee Bence, a Wurundjeri woman who graduated from UWA in 2019. “We’re quite a diverse and multicultural group,” she says. “I think what is truly inspiring is that regardless of race or background, our ability to work as a unified team with both our colleagues and patients never waivers. The passion we all have for improving oral health outcomes for our Indigenous community is a major factor in the success of our treatment.”

This story first appeared in the November edition of the Western Articulator magazine. Read the article in full here.