Coffee with…Michelle Hollingworth, Acting Manager Population Health and Planning, DHHS

Describe your work/role at the East Division Department of Health & Human Services?

I am currently acting manager of Population Health and Planning whilst Iain Butterworth is holidaying in Japan but my substantive role is as Senior Program Adviser – Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAA). This is a new role which commenced last year. There are nine other passionate AHAA s, as well as me, who are working to promote, build and support the health and wellbeing of older people across Victoria. We work closely with local government, community organisations, peak bodies, primary care partnerships, primary health providers and sporting organisations to build and support age friendly environments relevant to older people.

What sort of work were you doing prior to starting at DHHS?

I am a passionate, experienced health professional with twenty years’ experience in health promotion and public health. I have worked in a variety of roles in local, regional and state government and my main area of interest is in creating healthy environments.  From 2012-2016 I managed the Healthy Together Knox initiative – a Victorian systems-based initiative that aimed to improve people’s lives where they live, learn, work and play. I am really proud that the initiative reached an estimated 50,874 Knox residents (33 % of the Knox population) through the leadership, commitment and dedication of the HTK team, our partner EACH and Knox City Council. The team partnered with 60 early childhood services, 24 schools and 46 workplaces to create healthier environments. EACH and Knox City Council have sustained and embedded this work post the project completion in June 2016.

What excites and motivates you in your role?

I have always had a strong belief in working in partnership as the old saying goes ‘the sum of the parts is greater than the whole’ and to positively affect population health we must all work together. What truly motivates me is witnessing the commitment by organisations in the East to collaboratively work together to create healthier environments. I have a philosophical belief in the importance of achieving equity and equality by changing the systems and the environments of the places where people live, particularly for older people.

What strengths do you see in the Eastern Metropolitan Region community?

On the positive side the EMR community is culturally diverse, has high life expectancies, low crime rate, low unemployment rates, low mortgage stress, high rates of volunteering and high levels of education. The region is also generally well serviced by public transport, medical and educational facilities. Another key strength is the strong partnerships amongst organisation in the East to enable health and wellbeing. But it is not all a bed of roses as there are pockets of disadvantage and particular population groups that do not enjoy this high standard of living, do not have access to services and infrastructure, and we must work together to narrow these health inequalities.

What’s the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk in the morning?

I would like to say something deep and meaningful, but really I check my calendar, emails and my to-do list and then plan my day.

If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?

An end to Ageism! That older people are universally valued and respected for their current and past contribution to the world in which we live. That they are not considered ‘burdens’ or part of a ‘grey tsunami’ as  they have a wealth of skills and experiences and have lived through situations others cannot even imagine.  I think that older age is still seen as a shorthand for ill-health, inactivity and decline and not as a success story for public health policies and for socioeconomic development.

If you weren’t working at DHHS right now, what would you be doing?

Travelling the world and experiencing new cultures would be my ideal life – in this photo I am sitting on top of the world at Teotihuacan in Mexico. But in terms of another career I imagine I would have followed the environment/conservation path. I also sometimes play the ‘if I could ’ game and imagine that I could go undercover into a big private conglomerate to see first-hand how they influence and change cultures (unhealthy) and then use that knowledge, money and political pull to create healthier environments for all!

We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and other peoples of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the land on which our work in the community takes place. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.