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Philomena brings advocacy and research expertise to OCAV Board

January 3, 2022

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Philomena Horsley is a well-known community advocate in the aged care, disability and women’s health circles. As a medical anthropologist and researcher, she has a wealth of experience and knowledge which she is happy to draw upon as one of OCAV’s newest councillors.

She joined the Board in May 2021, and has been active in supporting the drive for OCAV to deliver home care and to develop a framework for gender, inclusion and diversity across the entire organisation.

“There are few medical anthropologists in Australia, which is surprising given its relevance in helping us understand how health and illnesses are shaped and experienced through global, historical and political lenses,” Philomena said.

She became interested in aged care about ten years ago through personal circumstances.

“My partner’s mother was sexually assaulted by a male staff member during a respite stay in residential aged care home in 2011. Norma was able to tell her story coherently and consistently, and she was able to identify her attacker,” Philomena said.

“She was also fortunate that her daughter and others listened and believed her account, tried to bring the perpetrator to justice, and worked hard to make her feel safe again.”

That incidence gave rise to Norma’s Project, a research program to address the gaps in knowledge about the sexual assault of older women. The program has gone on to inform national health policies.

Over the years, Philomena has worked in many sectors from disability through to women’s health and HIV/AIDS. Her driving force is a passion to end social inequality, and to change the way the western world views death and dying. Her PhD was an ethnographic study of hospital autopsy.

“In a way, my career has moved with the issues of the day, a rewarding and challenging experience.”

She is also well versed in research ethics. She was a long-time member of the Human Research Ethics Committee of Family Planning Victoria and SCOPE Victoria and is currently Deputy Chair of the Department of Justice HREC. She spent three years running Commonwealth – funded training of Victorian residential and home care aged care staff from over 300 agencies on issues of diversity and inclusion and the requirements for Rainbow Tick Accreditation.

Currently Philomena is working on two research projects. The first, Cancer Tissue Collection After Death (CASCADE), is looking at the autopsy results of patients who have consented for their tissues to be donated for laboratory-based research into breast, ovarian, melanoma and other cancers. As a member of the psycho-social research team, Philomena has collated interviews with the patients, families, clinicians and researchers involved in the CASCADE research. The report of people’s experiences, titled ‘Future. Family. Giving’, is about to be published by the Peter Mac Cancer Centre.

The second project is associated with the landmark aspirin trial ASPREE, run through Monash University which explored the impact of low-dose aspirin on 15,000 people aged 70 years plus. Most of those involved also contributed biological specimens to the ASPREE Healthy Ageing Biobank for DNA analysis.

The Garvin Institute partnered with Monash to deliver genetic findings of medical significance back to research participants. Philomena is currently interviewing these people.

“We need to better understand the impact of receiving these genetic results for people, as well as the best ways to deliver this kind of news which, of course, has implications for family members as well”, Philomena said

There is always something to do in Philomena’s life. She admits to being a lifelong learner.

She is hopeful that that retirement villages and residential care facilities will change to become more diverse and dynamic.

She is adamant, too, that the time has come for profit-focussed retirement villages to be better regulated and less able to exploit residents financially.

“Being on the Board of OCAV gives me the chance to learn about how the non-profit retirement sector, and how my knowledge and medical anthropological background can contribute to the shaping of its future. That excites me,” she said.


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