St Vincent’s Health has a remarkable Mission. The organisation looks back with pride on the history of its founders, the Sisters of Charity, who – because of their faith and their commitment to serving the dignity of each and every person – continually pushed boundaries.

SVHA’s Mission Leaders play a special role: they understand deeply the theological basis of the organisation’s ministry, the special commitment to people who are poor and vulnerable, and the broader Catholic tradition, and use this knowledge to accompany the organisation in discerning how its Mission can continue to be expressed. Through their leadership, every member of SVHA’s staff is supported to recognise the unique role they have in living out the Mission in their day-to-day work.

Our ongoing investment in our Mission

St Vincent’s Health Australia continues to support its Mission, which has a special focus on the poor and vulnerable, with direct investment in services, programs and research that assist groups with complex needs, including:

  • people with mental illness
  • people experiencing drug and alcohol dependence
  • people who are homeless
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and prisoners.

SVHA’s Mission investment this year totaled $170.1 million, an increase of 11.2% on the prior financial year. This investment reflects support from State and Commonwealth governments, philanthropic sources, and organisational funds.

The most significant increase was in mental health services, with a smaller increase in drug and alcohol services.


  1. Aboriginal Health includes all Aboriginal identified patients
  2. Mental Health is excluding Aboriginal patients and prisoners
  3. Other includes bad debt write off (incl. overseas pts), asylum/refugees, family violence and aged care supplemen
Voluntary Assisted Dying

Mission, public affairs, and clinical leaders came together to play a lead role in informing the organisation’s advocacy during the debate around the Victorian Government’s Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation in 2017-18.

However, in the 18 month implementation period between the bill’s successful passage through the Parliament and VAD coming into effect on 19 June 2019, SVHA’s Victorian services were presented with a new set of challenges: how to prepare staff and services to continue providing the best possible end-of-life care in such a dramatically changed ethical and health landscape?

SVHA Mission worked with other parts of the organisation to produce a dynamic and patient-centred response to the new legislation, which enabled the organisation to advance its ethic of care while at the same time ensuring facilities had a clear and compassionate response in place should patients or residents wish to access VAD.

This work not only helped guide the organisation’s Victorian facilities, but became a foundation for the response of other Catholic health and aged care service providers in the state.

A new model for ethics education

In the second half of 2018, SVHA’s Mater hospital trialled a new program for ethics education, Ethics at the Bedside, co-led by Louwana Saba (Mission Integration Manager, The Mater) and Dr Dan Fleming (Group Manager, Ethics and Formation).

The program was designed to ‘disrupt’ more traditional styles of ethics education which tend to follow a model of a lecturer speaking to students. Instead, this program began with one lecture followed by six workshop-style sessions. These sessions drew on the experiences of front-line caregivers and provided an opportunity for participants to consider and discuss the ethical issues they face.

The program was developed to give front-line caregivers greater confidence in their ethical decision-making, including in their capacity to draw on and apply the Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia. The University of Notre Dame undertook an evaluation of the program and found it was successful in helping program participants show greater confidence in ethical decision-making.

Ethics at the Bedside was run again at the Mater in 2019, along with St Vincent’s Public Hospital Melbourne and St Vincent’s Private Hospital Fitzroy, with plans for further roll-out across other SVHA facilities.

Focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff

A major development for SVHA during the year was the appointment of Darlene Dreise as full-time Chair of the organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Steering Committee.

This is a new role for SVHA – and unique in Australia’s health and aged care sector – and reflects the organisation’s commitment to prioritising the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A Torres Strait Islander woman, Darlene’s role is to champion initiatives that lead to greater understanding and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – both within SVHA and the communities in which we work – and build workplace cultures that help meet the goals of the organisation’s RAP.

Darlene also offers inspiration and guidance in the planning of SVHA’s annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff Forum, a unique, Mission-led gathering where every Indigenous member of staff within the organisation is invited to attend – close to 230 people – regardless of how long they have served, or the nature of their role.

Open Support

One of the charitable arms of the St Vincent’s Clinic, Open Support’s mission is to address unmet and changing need among the most vulnerable in the community and was established by the Sisters of Charity as part of the Clinic in 1990.

Open Support’s work focuses on three core areas: empowering and supporting people impacted by domestic and family violence, enabling improved access to healthcare, and reducing the impact of social isolation in the community.

During 2018-19, Open Support’s 184 volunteers provided 15,254 hours of support (equal to $536,792 in labour in kind).

In its work supporting individuals and families affected by family violence, Open Support cared for 12 families during the year, the majority from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, offering crisis accommodation (average stay = 213 days), case management, intervention and support, and rehousing.

In its efforts to improve access to healthcare for regional and rural patients, Open Support worked with 219 families, providing 983 room nights, and saving $79,000 in accommodation costs. Another 866 clients were provided with 2,284 trips to receive medical care.

And in its work addressing social isolation in the community, Open Support made 2,337 visits with 118 clients, 44% of them for the first time.

And finally…

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team

Spiritual Care Australia – the National Peak Body for practitioners in spiritual care, pastoral care and chaplaincy – awarded St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team the prestigious Best of Care - Outstanding Team award for 2019.

Next Article