Matiu Bush, one of the Finalists for the Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers, is the founder of One Good Street, a social impact platform to encourage neighbour-initiated care for older residents at risk of social isolation and loneliness.
Currently the General Manager for Infection Prevention Operation COVID-19 accommodation in Victoria, Matiu talks about what the nomination means for him and how COVID-19 has changed the way One Good Street is working to resolve the social isolation among senior citizens in Australia.
- About One Good Street
Streets are recognised as being ‘Good Streets’ by signing up to the website and joining in the One Good Street activities. These activities are practical ways for community members to get involved with their senior, socially isolated neighbours in ways that keep older residents independent in their own homes for as long as possible. Those links in the chain include family members, friends and carers, community nurses, general practitioners and home support services.
- Every social impact initiative has a personal story behind it – what’s the story behind One Good Street?
There are two stories, actually.
It started when I began helping to support a retired GP (general practitioner) on my street. He’s 84 years old and we support his adult daughter to look after him. We fill in the gaps between formal care, paid care, etc.
Another time, there was an elderly lady called Vera on my street who was turning 101 and a nurse and I were the only ones to visit her on her birthday. I realised that people like you and I probably speak thousands of words a day, how many would have Vera spoken on that day?
I think that was the catalyst to One Good Street. I realised that loneliness is endemic, hidden and experienced by a lot of men and women who have outlived their partners. That was the first step towards conceptualising the world’s first wearable to detect loneliness, CaT Pin (Conversation as Therapy Pin).
The CaT Pin records the number of words spoken by the wearer; if the wearer drops below a certain number of words over a given time, a text message is sent to a loved one, volunteer phone service or health care worker. One Good Street mutually reinforces the CaT Pin by addressing loneliness and providing a better quality of life for our older community members.
- How has being a nurse helped you with One Good Street?
Being a nurse means that I understand the formal care ecosystem. As a nurse, you can see where the gaps are and the design interventions that support the formal care and fill those gaps. The issue right now is that many community groups and social impact initiatives that start fail to integrate into the formal care system.
Understanding the system also means you can understand its limits, i.e. where it ends and where the community needs to step in – it’s a partnership.
Nursing puts you in front of those who are the most vulnerable, community nurses see the most disadvantaged individuals in the community, often hidden behind doors and untended gardens. As nurses, we get access to them, because we have the community’s trust and the mechanisms with which to do it.
- Have you been able to determine the impact of this initiative?
There is a lot of goodwill in communities out there to do good things, especially in neighbourhood Facebook groups. People are also looking to redeem the experience of ageing that they have with their parents. They want to ensure that other older people don’t suffer as their parents probably did. That goodwill just needed to be harnessed, it needs a funnel – and that’s what One Good Street is.
When you mark a street as a caring street, there are economic and social implications. When a street is marked as having a neighbourhoods where older people are supported, it makes that neighbourhood desirable to live in.
Additionally, through our Library of Care Things, we have given away close to $40,000 worth of caring equipment away – walkers, crutches, aids to homeless older people as well. Sometimes, that equipment just goes straight to landfills. Through this initiative, we are preventing that waste and getting it to people who really need it.
- How has COVID-19 changed things?
We run a range of activities such as an intergenerational choir, a casserole club, cycling without ageing (an initiative that uses specially-designed cycles that neighbours can use to give a ride to an older person, possibly with impaired mobility, reconnecting them to their wider community).
Of course, due to COVID-19, we have had to pause these activities, but that has motivated us to find new ways to work throughout this pandemic. We encouraged community members to leave a note in their neighbour’s letterbox letting them know they are there for support, especially if they are self-isolating for two weeks. This was particularly helpful given the COVID-19 lockdown we were going through in Melbourne.
What’s also great is that due to COVID-19, we hit peak understanding and empathy about the loneliness epidemic. People understood what it’s like to live in your house, alone all day, all week with no visitors. We had lots of people wanting to help, so I mentored different groups that were popping up wanting to do something and redirected them back to the groups that had never stopped doing it.
- What does being recognised as a Trailblazer mean to you?
It’s a validation of my approach to nursing; the approach of not staying in your lane. It validates being a hybrid professional because we add more value when we have different skill sets.
It’s important to acknowledge risk takers, those who don’t follow a conventional career trajectory because in the future, we will have nurses who code, entrepreneurs who have their own start-ups – it makes nursing better overall, and by extension, the health care system.