Mental health, virus vaccine help for River Murray communities

More mental health support for River Murray communities threatened by flooding has been announced, along with wider vaccination programs for the mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus.

Dec 07, 2022, updated Dec 07, 2022
Riverbend Caravan Park in Renmark where residents were evacuated this morning. Photo: Facebook

Riverbend Caravan Park in Renmark where residents were evacuated this morning. Photo: Facebook

Health and Wellbeing Minister Chris Picton visited the Riverland this morning to announce a $1 million SA Flood Mental Health Response package for more psychological and mental health nursing services.

He also visited Renmark Hospital after eight vulnerable residents were relocated due to flood waters rising at the levee behind the building, with another 10 patients to be moved today. Picton also visited Loxton Hospital where some residents are now staying.

He said that shack owners whose holiday properties are flooded or likely to be flooded are now eligible for JEV vaccines, giving greater protection from the deadly disease as they move in to clean up homes as flood waters recede.

Mosquito numbers are likely to explode in the Riverland impacting communities and around 3,000 holiday homes along the banks of the Murray River expected to be impacted by flooding.

Emergency workers supporting affected communities are also eligible, with Picton urging people to guard against mosquito bites that can also infect people with Ross River Virus, Murray Valley and encephalitis virus and Barmah Forrest virus.

Nine South Australians have been diagnosed with JEV during the outbreak that started in December last year. All cases were hospitalised and two people died.

“More than 10,000 people who live or work in eligible postcodes in the Murray River, Lakes, and Coorong communities have so far taken up the opportunity to receive the JEV vaccine,” Picton said.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen a significant increase in vaccine uptake by these communities, and we are pleased to expand the eligibility criteria to those with holiday homes in the region who have been identified at risk of flooding.

“This is a potentially deadly virus, and any measures those at risk can take to protect themselves should do so.”

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier warned mosquito numbers “are going to explode as the weather gets warmer with all of this water around”.

The State Government mental health package released today is designed to support communities as the first of two peak River Murray flows hits the Riverland, flooding more homes and hitting tourism businesses and fruit growing properties.

Among the new support is more psychological and mental health nursing services being provided through the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network.

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Further psychiatrist support is also being supported via Telehealth run by the Rural and Remote Mental Health Unit, along with extra mental health support and staff through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Wellbeing SA is also planning new community resilience and wellbeing programs and existing programs expanded including through the Mid-Murray Suicide Prevention Network and Riverland Community Suicide Prevention Network.

Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Brayley said the mental health impact of floods is well known.

“There may be a need to seek help at any time – both before the flood peaks at this time of vulnerability and uncertainty, during the flooding and in the recovery period.,” he said.

“While typical symptoms can include anxiety, poor sleep and even confusion, some people can experience physical stress related symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and headaches and should also seek help.

“These responses can occur in anyone, but those who have experienced past traumas of any type, including bushfires, or have a pre-existing condition should take extra care in facing the floods.”

Earlier today, SA State Emergency Services chief executive officer Chris Beattie said four people required emergency accommodation after the Renmark Riverbend Caravan Park was evacuated when defects in its extensive levee built to fend off flood waters were detected.

He said door knocking at homes and houseboats likely to be impacted by flooding over the past week found about 1100 residents were already inundated by rising river flows. More houseboats are being visited today.

High river gauge markers installed accidentally by a contractor in Renmark, worrying residents, had been removed from roads in the town where no inundation is expected.

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