Health leaders during bushfires, COVID to be honoured today

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Outstanding health leadership during the 2019-20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic will be recognised today at a ceremony at the Australian National University (ANU).

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Chair, the Hon Jillian Skinner, will jointly award the 2020 Sidney Sax medal for outstanding health leadership to the ANU College of Health and Medicine's Bushfire Impact Working Group, and Patricia Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

During the 2019-20 bushfires, the ANU College of Health and Medicine's Bushfire Impact Working Group, chaired by Professor Robyn Lucas and Dr Arnagretta Hunter, responded to immediate health needs related to the physical and mental health effects of bushfires and smoke in communities in the ACT and South Coast NSW.

Research projects were initiated to study the health and health systems effects of fire and smoke, including the measurement and assessment of air quality, effects on lung function, and medium to long term impact related to pregnancy and children.

This work has had wide impact, including on the recommendations and findings of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Australia's health system and communities, Patricia Turner, Chief Executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, played a significant leadership role in ensuring that Commonwealth and state/territory governments took urgent action to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, closing down access and prioritising safety to prevent community transmission of COVID-19.

In comparison to the devastating incidence of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities abroad, rates of COVID-19 in First Nations peoples in Australia remain proportionately lower than the rest of the population.

This successful model of community leadership will have long-term positive impact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities working in partnership with governments.

'The AHHA commends and thanks the award winners for their leadership and their proactive response to the bushfires and the pandemic,' says AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven.

'They stand alongside many thousands of people working in the health and aged care sector who have made substantial contributions to protecting the health and wellbeing of Australians this year.

‘Importantly, the contributions of both the ANU Bushfire Impact Working Group and NACCHO CEO Patricia Turner will continue to make Australia a better, safer and healthier country for all its residents.'

Event details:

Venue: Manning Clark Hall, Kambri, Australian National University, Canberra

Date: 08 December 2020 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Register free: to attend in person or online here.

More information on AHHA is available at

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.