Mildura Base Public Hospital registered nurse and midwife Jo Herde has been an RN for more than 30 years, and a midwife for nearly 28. Among the early cohort of nurses trained in the tertiary system, at Adelaide’s Flinders University, she ended up in Mildura because of her ex-partner’s job. ‘I moved up here 20 odd years ago,’ she says. ‘For two years.’
Needless to say, she’s still there. Having grown up in remote rural South Australia, Jo says Mildura is like a metropolis to her. But that’s not its primary attraction. Sitting on the banks of the great Murray River, the city’s Mediterranean climate is a big part of its appeal. ‘The climate is amazing,’ she says. ‘Blue skies, just beautiful. Also, we’re an incredible wine region. We’ve got an amazing gin distillery, wineries and dining. Most of the state’s grapes and wineries are in the Mildura/Murray Darling region.’
Is it any wonder that what keeps Jo going when work stresses outweigh the blue skies is ‘really good red wine’?
She’s joking, of course. Like it is everywhere, staffing is a major issue of concern in Mildura. But when things get really tough – or every time she starts night duty and wonders if there isn’t something else she could be doing – Jo just thinks of the mums and the babies. ‘I think I’d miss the mums and the babies too much, and actually being there at the coalface.’
“You’ve got all that safety if something goes wrong, but you can actually be a part of something that’s doing so much right.”
And despite the scarcity of midwives in the town, and being four hours from either Adelaide or Bendigo, the positive is that ‘we have to deal with whatever walks through the door. That’s actually an absolute plus: you get to do so much more than you might in one little spot in a metropolitan area.’
On top of that, Jo says it takes her only four minutes to get to work and she doesn’t pay for parking. ‘I got caught in traffic once because there were road works, and I was three minutes later than I would normally be.’
The sense of community is also a big drawcard. ‘I love my community, and I’m passionate about what a midwife does as far as being there for the women. You can’t put a price on that. But if you are here only for the financial things, you’re better off to going onto Only Fans,’ she adds with a rueful laugh.
Take your meal break
Jo isn’t just passionate about being there for the women; she’s equally passionate about being there for her colleagues. ‘I’m always talking about the woman being the centre of the care,’ she says. ‘It’s in our code of conduct: she’s your number one priority; not the doctor, not management. But your second priority is yourself. That’s why, as a Job Rep, I always say take your meal break, for instance. You’re gonna burn out and be no good if you don’t step away. You will be a better midwife, a better nurse, if you care for yourself as well.’
“Seeing ratios came out of our EBA and into an Act was just amazing. To experience what it was like before and then to see that come in? Incredible!”
A Job Rep since 2001, Jo is enthusiastic about the importance of being an AMNF member. Mildura Base Hospital runs a post-graduate midwifery employment model, as part of the post-graduate diploma in midwifery, and Jo tells every graduate who comes through to join the union. ‘Not only because you’ve got all that safety if something goes wrong, but so you can actually be a part of something that’s doing so much right,’ she says.
As an example, she lists ‘the fight for the aged care, the fight for patient ratios, the fight for casuals to accrue long service leave. AMNF fought, or are fighting, for you to have all that.’ The passing of the Safe Patient Care Act was a particular highlight in Jo’s time as a nurse, midwife and Job Rep.
Providing a voice
‘I’ve been a Job Rep twice, for two different places. The first time was back when [the campaign for] safe patient care ratios was the big thing. So seeing them came out of our EBA and into an Act was just amazing. To experience what it was like before and then to see that come in? Incredible! I was like: “You beauty! It’s actually now legal recognition of what we’ve been saying is the right thing to do.”’
Jo acknowledges the pandemic’s strain on compliance with the Act, among other things, but it just underscores her point about the importance AMNF’s work. ‘I don’t want to lose any of that momentum,’ she says. ‘For instance, sometimes I worry that the temptation is to circumvent the Act by increasing the acuity of the patients you’re caring for rather than the number. We can’t let up.’
Jo herself joined the union because she could see that nurses and midwives needed a voice, and she first became a Job Rep for the same reason: to have a voice. After Mildura Private Hospital closed its maternity service and she switched to the public system, she began working with a Job Rep named Meredith who inspired her further. ‘When she retired, I thought again that somebody’s got to be a voice, not only for my colleagues on the ward, but also for the ANMF to get the information out there about what’s happening. Also I took over Meredith’s locker – which was covered in ANMF (and ANF) stickers – and I thought she might come back and haunt me if I didn’t do it!’