Trucks, and in particular the custom-designed mobile clinics, affectionately known as ‘Heart Trucks’ play a vital role in Heart of Australia’s mission to deliver specialist medical services to people living in rural and regional Australia.
Dr Gomes realised when Heart of Australia was just a dream that trucks would hold the solution.
“We needed to deliver excellent specialists to the bush, but we also needed to transport the state of the art medical equipment that the specialists needed to diagnose and treat patients. We wanted them to have their entire toolbox, not a mini or travel version, and we needed all that equipment to be protected and well-calibrated as they travelled through regional Queensland.”
“We wanted patients to be treated in a modern, state of the art medical clinic, despite being thousands of kilometres away from the city. The only vehicle that was going to be able to deliver on these demanding requirements was a custom-designed, oversized truck.”
The trucking industry has always been a strong supporter of Heart of Australia’s mission to deliver specialist medical care to rural and regional communities. This was demonstrated once again this week when PACCAR Australia committed to donating two DAF prime movers to be the driving engines for our fourth and fifth Heart Trucks. HEART 4 will service the expanding Northern Route, and HEART 5 will be the new dedicated medical imaging truck. Both trucks will launch operations in 2021.
PACCAR Australia has been a dedicated partner of Heart of Australia since the beginning. In 2014, when Heart of Australia was just a dream, Dr Gomes reached out to the trucking industry for support. PACCAR Australia was one of the first partners to come on board. They donated the initial Kenworth K200 cab-over prime mover to be the driving engine for HEART 1, the 18-wheel custom-designed semi-trailer mobile clinic that turned Heart of Australia from a dream into a reality. In 2018, PACCAR Australia stepped up once again, providing another Kenworth K200 prime mover, this time for the new 34-wheel B-Double mobile clinic, HEART 2.
PACCAR Australia’s Managing Director, Andrew Hadjikakou said there was a strong desire across the company to play a significant role in making Heart of Australia a reality, and helping it to expand and serve more communities in rural and regional Australia.
“PACCAR Australia is very proud of its Australian roots and in serving Australian communities. We have a nearly-50-year history of manufacturing in Australia.”
“Our trucks are suitable for Australia’s harsh conditions and built to transport things over great distances. When we heard Dr Gomes talking about trucks being the potential solution vehicle to take medical services to rural and regional Australia – we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”
“Many of our customers reside in rural Queensland and we hear firsthand about their challenges accessing health care. People might not automatically link the trucking industry and health care but when you look at what Dr Gomes is doing, it’s a natural fit. There is much the trucking industry can do to support.”
Heart of Australia has enjoyed the support of several companies and organisations in the transport industry.
When Heart of Australia built HEART 3, the baby of the Heart Truck fleet in 2019 they did so with the support of another transport industry company, Black Truck Sales – Isuzu, who donated an Isuzu F-Series FSD260.
IOR, the supplier of fuels to regional, rural and remote Australia provide all the fuel required to drive our Heart Trucks from town to town, quite literally fuelling our services. Bridgestone donates all the tyres needed for the Heart Trucks and support vehicles. Brown & Hurley provides all the maintenance services for the Heart Trucks, and Frasers Livestock Transport makes a financial contribution each quarter to help towards the cost of drivers wages.
Heart of Australia’s drivers are qualified truck drivers, licensed to drive the heavy, oversized, trucks that they operate – a significant skillset essential to Heart of Australia’s daily operations.
In 2018 Heart of Australia was awarded a lifetime membership to the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA). It is the first organisation to have been granted life membership since the organisation first began in 1907.
Dr Gomes said the commitment that the trucking industry has shown for reducing health inequity for people living in the Australian bush continues to impress and inspire.
“It’s been clear since the very beginning that the trucking industry is with us on this journey to deliver specialist medical services to the bush. Every kilometre we travel – they’re supporting us to be there.”
“Every time we step up to do more, expand the service, help more people, the trucking industry steps up with us – just as PACCAR Australia did this week by donating the prime movers for both HEART 4 and HEART 5.”
“Good news like this lifts the whole team. Industry sector support fuels our commitment to do more, help more, and dream big. Knowing companies are with us makes each kilometre that little bit easier to travel.”
When asked what impact the Heart of Australia service has had in his life, patient Tony Beattie doesn’t mince his words.
“I’m alive. That’s the impact. If it weren’t for Heart of Australia, I wouldn’t be here.” Tony said.
A few months ago Tony received a call from Kat, a member of the Heart of Australia Bookings Team, reminding him he was due for his 2-yearly check-up. When asked if he’d been planning to schedule his check-up before receiving the reminder call, Tony replied “Hell no.”
“It wasn’t on my radar at all. There are so many other things you’re thinking about, all the other responsibilities you have. I would not have even thought about it until the call came in.”
As it turns out, it was a check-up Tony could not afford to miss.
“At the time, I was experiencing some shortness of breath. But my GP and I both associated it with a car crash I had several years ago. I was about to see a lung specialist, but then COVID hit, and the city specialist stopped seeing patients.”
“When Kat called she said Heart of Australia was taking all the precautions necessary so they could keep seeing patients despite COVID, that my check up was important, and that the Truck would be just an hour and a half away in Dalby. My wife Carolyn and I decided it was important and close enough to home that we could get it done in three or four hours.”
“When I arrived for my check-up with Dr Gomes, he put me on the treadmill for the stress test. I’d been walking for less than a minute when I started having trouble breathing. He stopped me, said it wasn’t looking good and moving over to the ultrasound he found further complications.
“Dr Gomes told us he had detected a significant cardiac issue. We were utterly taken aback, and not sure what we were going to need to do – especially given Queensland was in COVID lockdowns, with all but category-one patients having their procedures cancelled and rescheduled. We didn’t need to worry though – Dr Gomes organised the lot.
“He made a few calls and organised for me to have an angiogram in Brisbane within days. I think that’s a major bonus of the Heart of Australia service not everyone knows about. The doctors who come out are at the top of their game. They’re well respected and have a great network of colleagues from their city practices, so they can call on those networks when their patients need urgent help.”
“I had the angiogram on Friday, and first thing Monday morning I was in surgery having triple bypass surgery. They said the blockage could have killed me at any time – finding out I needed surgery, and getting it done quickly saved my life.
Tony’s wife Carolyn said it is essential for people to understand the difference that the Heart of Australia service has in the lives of people living in rural and remote Queensland.
“Heart of Australia is saving lives – just like it saved Tony’s. The team are detecting conditions earlier, which helps people to get treatment, live longer and live healthier.”
“But it’s also helping people to stay in the bush they love for longer. Everyone out here knows that if you become seriously ill, it’s incredibly difficult to access the services you need close to home without relocating, even temporarily. But when you have specialists come to you, a reasonable driving distance from your home or property you can stay on the land and in the community with the people you love for longer. That’s life-changing.”
“Then there’s the quality of the service. The mobile clinics are state of the art, the equipment is as good or better than what you get in the city, the doctors are top professionals, and on top of this you get to sit down and talk to someone like you’re a real person.”
“It’s a better quality, more kind and human service than I’ve ever had in the city.”
“And there’s a lot of buzz about telehealth, and if your option is telehealth or nothing then yes, telehealth is great. But you can’t compare it to sitting across a desk from your doctor – sometimes over a cup of tea.”
“There used to be a level of prestige associated with saying ‘I see a specialist in Brisbane’. It reflected a time when we weren’t necessarily getting top-level professionals making the trek to rural towns to see patients. That’s all changed now that Heart of Australia is bringing highly regarded specialists to our local towns who you can sit and meet with one on one.”
“The specialists, the sonographers, the medical aides – they all really know their stuff. I’ve been to several clinics, and you can’t get better than the team on the Heart Trucks. If you step on the Truck and there’s something wrong – they’ll find it.”
Tony said his story could very easily have had a very different end.
“People need to understand that distance is a real deterrent to seeking medical attention. If I’d needed to travel to Brisbane or even Toowoomba for that check-up, I wouldn’t have made the trip. It would have required me to be away from the farm for three or four days when just one day away is a big deal.”
“I wouldn’t have made the trip unless I thought there was a really serious problem. Of course, it turned out that there was a severe problem, but I didn’t know that.”
“If Kat hadn’t called to remind me that I needed to book in my 2-yearly check-up, or if I’d needed to travel further than Dalby to see the specialist, it wouldn’t have happened. I’d be walking around with a time bomb in my chest, or I’d be dead.”
“So if you’ve got the slightest worry, go get it checked out. It’s a quick and easy thing to do, and the people are lovely. The Heart Truck is there, it’s close, so for goodness sake – get a referral and go visit.”
“And when you get that reminder call to book in your check-up – just do it. Getting that reminder phone call saved my life.”