A healthcare worker in Coen in far-north Queensland who is helping people in her community die with dignity has been named as the Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland hero for 2024.

Jodi Hamilton was nominated for her exceptional work enhancing palliative care services.

The Coen local grew up on a cattle station near the far-north Queensland community and works in Coen Health clinic as an administration officer, but it’s her work rolling out palliative care support throughout the region that the flying doctors want to recognise.

After her mother’s death six years ago, Jodi says she was determined to make sure that supporting loved ones in their final days in Coen would be made easier.

“I think it’s about using the services that we already have to help our local families to bring people home,” Jodi says.

“We don’t have an aged care facility inland. Our closest age care facility is a couple hundred kilometres away. So if anyone goes away to aged care whether they’re sick or palliative or not, it’s really tough to bring them home and it’s really tough to not be able to see them.

“Not everybody can travel our dirt roads to get to town and usually it’s only one or two family members.

“So to be able to bring anybody back to country, whether they’re palliative or just in respite or anything like that, I think is exactly what we should be doing as a community.”

She’s putting the 20-thousand-dollar prize from Ergon Energy towards rebuilding a palliative care base in an old building that was the original health clinic.

Jodi says it’s important for all people living remotely including Indigenous families, to have access to proper end of life support and she hopes other isolated communities around Australia can follow Coen’s model of care for their families.

“We would love to share our project plan with anybody who wants to make a start,” she says.

“The project plan that we’ve done up involves an at-home facility, a local facility. We’re not talking about multimillion dollars, we’re even talking maybe even a housing commission house that’s converted.

“That building also has room for families to be able to stay there so you can continue the care and that helps with overcrowded homes and the fact that you’ve still got children in your houses who you have to get school every day.

“It’s a tough process when someone’s passing away for the entire family. So if we can offer a space that people are comfortable in, I think that would be a nice option as well. We wouldn’t be looking at limiting palliative care to that facility. The idea would be to support it wherever the patient and the family are seeking to end their days where they’re most comfortable.

“We’ve got lots of different options, but we would love other communities to try and take it up because it just causes too much distraction I think if we can’t grieve well and bringing our people home helps that grieving process.”

RFDS Queensland Section Chief Executive Officer Meredith Staib describes Jodi’s dedication to improving palliative care services in her community as “truly inspiring”.

“We’re proud to be able to recognise Jodi’s achievements and the amazing work she has done to support the region,” Ms Staib says.

“Delivering healthcare and supporting communities is a team effort, which is why we are so incredibly grateful to have people like Jodi on the ground each and every day.”