Western Alliance COVID-19 research grants

Applications are now closed


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Western Alliance has been able to offer a total pool of $300k to support COVID-19 related research throughout the pandemic and recovery period. Phase 1 of this funding targeted research that would aim to manage or mitigate the effects of the pandemic, with phase 2 encompassing research that aimed to analyse the regional outcomes of the pandemic (both direct and indirect) and its management, as well as harnessing new ideas generated from the pandemic response.

We are excited to announce the outcomes for these grant rounds, and were very pleased to see the response across the region and the high standard of the 22 projects submitted for review. We thank all those who took the time to submit in an application, and congratulate the successful projects and investigators (see below). We look forward to seeing the impact of these initiatives across our region.



Project: COVID-19 – Geographical equity in a pandemic – $84,463

Chief Investigator: Dr Kate Kloot, Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine

Associate Investigators: Dr Tim Baker – Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine; Associate Professor Anna Wong Shee – Deakin Rural Health/ Ballarat Health Services; Associate Professor Vincent Versace – Deakin Rural Health

In 2017, with support from Western Alliance, the Rural Acute Hospital Data Register (RAHDaR) was developed to collate mandatory government-reported emergency presentation data from larger hospital Emergency Departments with episode-level emergency presentation data from small rural hospitals – data that is not currently collected by government-level databases. Since its creation, RAHDaR has been used to provide regular hospital reports, and in numerous research projects and peer-reviewed publications. RAHDaR will now use the existing framework and governance mechanisms to provide agile and timely COVID-19 surveillance data.

This project will deliver:

  1. Regular reporting as required of potential COVID-19 emergency presentations to associated rural health services
  2. Regular reporting as required of non-COVID-19 emergency presentations to associated rural health services
  3. Mapping of health service emergency presentation profiles and interhospital transfers
  4. Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping of COVID and non-COVID emergency presentations
  5. Expansion of RAHDaR database to include data from rural health services in the Grampians region

This project will rapidly gather, synthesise, and share information on the epidemiology and management of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 cases in rural Western Victoria. This will enable health services to mobilise, reallocate and coordinate resources if the prevalence of virus becomes high, and ensure the appropriate treatment of all patients, in the event prevalence remains low. Geographical expansion of the RAHDaR footprint into the Grampians’ region will also provide future opportunity to build research capacity in the broader region covered by the Western Alliance.



Project: Evaluation of telehealth services implemented for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the primary health care setting – $49,993.60

Chief Investigator: Hannah Beks, Deakin University

Associate Investigators: Associate Professor Vincent Versace – Deakin Rural Health; Associate Professor James Charles – National Indigenous Knowledges Education Research Innovation (NIKERI); Fiona Mitchell – Office of the Executive Director; Associate Professor Anna Wong Shee – Deakin Rural Health/ Ballarat Health Services; Associate Professor Kevin McNamara – Deakin Rural Health; Dr Andrea Hernan – Deakin Rural Health

Project summary:

To meet the health care needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander* people residing in Djab Wurrung Country (Ararat Rural City and Northern Grampians region) during the COVID-19 pandemic, Budja Budja Aboriginal Cooperative (BBAC – an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation – ACCHO) has had to respond rapidly by modifying the delivery of health care services. This has involved a shift to telehealth (videoconferencing and phone) consultations to meet physical distancing requirements. The delivery of other clinical services, such as the Tulku wan Wininn mobile clinic and face-to-face health consults at the BBAC fixed clinic, have also been modified. This shift also occurred within primary health care centres across Australia, requiring a temporary restructure of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to accommodate changes in health service delivery under the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

This project will evaluate the implementation and impacts of telehealth services for Aboriginal people accessing primary health care services through BBAC. This will be undertaken concurrently with the participatory evaluation of the BBAC Tulku wan Wininn mobile clinic. Ethical approval will be sought through an amendment (DUHREC 2019-432), allowing for a prompt commencement of research activities. This has the support of the BBAC leadership and is invaluable to examining the impacts and uptake of different models of primary health care for Aboriginal people. Methods of data collection for the telehealth evaluation will include quantitative data (e.g. Non-identifiable clinical data and practice data), qualitative data (e.g. interviews with health professionals and Aboriginal patients with support from BBAC), and cost data.

*term ‘Aboriginal’ has been used to refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. No disrespect is intended

Project: Mental health at the COVID-19 frontline: An assessment of distress, anxiety and coping from staff and attendees at screening clinics – $30,000

Chief Investigator: Prof Susan Brumby – Western District Health Service

Associate Investigators: Dr Muhammad Aziz Rahman – Federation University; Dr Dale Ford – Western District Health Service; Professor Wendy Cross – Federation University; Dr Nic Van Zyl – South West Healthcare/Deakin University; Dr Grace Sousa – South West Healthcare; Ms Lorraine Hedley – Western District Health Service

Project summary:

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, new methods to minimise the viral spread were required – social isolation, COVID-19 screening and protective clothing in specific healthcare settings. Government restrictions resulted in social, economic, and health consequences affecting our health seeking behaviours and the manner of our interactions with healthcare workers. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with mental illness, and the general population has been exacerbated by fear, self-isolation and stigma.

Across Western Victoria, the COVID-19 response has included drive-through screening and respiratory assessment clinics (RAC). People seeking COVID-19 screening are met with healthcare workers fully donned in gowns, gloves and masks which may threaten people already experiencing distress, as well as hampering communication to the general population.
This research study ‘Mental health at the COVID-19 frontline’ will assess psychological distress, anxiety and coping strategies from two regional screening sites:

  1. A drive-through screening clinic based at Western District Health Service, Hamilton and
  2. A Respiratory Assessment Clinic with prior phone screening at South West Healthcare.

Attendees and healthcare workers at both sites will be requested to complete a structured, validated and anonymous online questionnaire to assess distress, anxiety and coping strategies. The experience of frontline healthcare workers will be further explored through focus group discussions. COVID-19 screening is to continue and be part of the recovery phase.

This project will provide insight into possible mitigations and new working practices that will benefit mental health in these frontline interactions for both attendees and healthcare workers.

Project: Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Ballarat and Western Victoria healthcare systems to inform future preparedness: a mixed methods study – $42,580

Chief Investigators: Dr Rob Commons/Dr David Lister/Sharon Sykes

Associate Investigators: Dr Caroline Bartolo – Ballarat Health Services/St John of God Ballarat; Dr Raquel Cowan – Ballarat Health Services/St John of God Ballarat; Laura Martin – Western Victoria Primary Health Network; Dr Vince Russell – St John of God Ballarat; Dr Chris Preston – Western Health/Ballarat Health Services; Professor John Yearwood – Deakin University; Associate Professor Andrew Stranieri – Federation University; Dr Paul Perversi – Deakin University

Project Summary:

The emergence of the COVID-19 threat with its profound impact on society further changed the context of health service delivery in the Ballarat, Geelong and Western region. It has had wide-ranging impacts upon individual sufferers, their caregivers, the healthcare system and broader society. Rapid adaptations have been made to the Ballarat healthcare network including the introduction of fever screening clinics, reductions in elective surgery, reallocation of public and private patients between hospitals, restrictions on hospital visitors, and increased numbers of patients requiring isolation while undergoing COVID- 19 testing.

This study aims to:

  1. Investigate the impacts of the pandemic on patient outcomes and the overall healthcare network by investigating changes to the number of patients presenting to general practitioners and hospitals, being admitted to hospital and undergoing surgery
  2. Assess whether outcomes of patients admitted to hospital or tested for COVID-19 were impacted, for example by changing the amount of time they were admitted or before they were transferred to other healthcare facilities, or leading to more severely unwell patients or deaths.
  3. Determine the themes identified by key stakeholders in the Ballarat hospital COVID-19 pandemic response that can be used to inform future operational, support, and patient care interventions, to improve the Ballarat region’s preparedness for and response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, both in its current recovery phase and through future possible escalations
  4. Find a shared vision on how to reactivate regional Western Victoria’s healthcare following the pandemic through group reasoning and critical realists (CR) approaches

Project: The rapid adoption of telehealth by a regional community-based palliative care service due to COVID-19: Patient and Health Care Professional perspectives and opportunities for service enhancement – $10,5000

Chief Investigator: Dr Peter Eastman – Barwon Health

Associate Investigators: Anna Dowd – Barwon Health; Jacqui White – Barwon Health; Matthew Ely – Barwon Health; Jill Carter – Barwon Health

Project summary:

In recent years the use of telehealth has been promoted across healthcare settings including palliative care. The advantages for both patients and health services are numerous including improved access to care for frail and remote patients, improved access to multi-disciplinary specialist staff and cost savings.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought the use of telehealth to the fore, as public health approaches such as social distancing and isolation have meant many people have been unable to interact directly with health care professionals (HCP). For community-based palliative care services this has meant a sudden and dramatic change in practice away from a predominantly face-to-face model of care to one that significantly incorporates telehealth. While Australia has largely avoided the tragic scenes we have witnessed overseas, it seems likely that future healthcare provision will not be “business as usual” but rather a blended model involving both direct and indirect contact with HCP. As such, understanding how palliative care patients and HCP have experienced telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis and how telehealth compares to more traditional face-to­face care will be crucial in planning community palliative care services moving forward. This planning is crucial because no one knows what the future holds including if/when a similar situation might arise again.

The aim of the current study therefore is to evaluate palliative care patient and health professional satisfaction with telehealth in the context of the sudden changes caused by COVID-19 and investigate preferences around what modes of service delivery people feel work best.

Project: Investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of staff in rural health services – $43,676

Chief Investigator: Dr Michael Field – Colac Area Health

Associate Investigators: Associate Professor Anna Wong Shee – Deakin Rural Health/ Ballarat Health Services; Dr Laura Alston – Deakin University/Colac Area Health; Associate Professor Vincent Versace – Deakin Rural Health; Dr Anton Issacs – Monash University; Dr Keith Sutton – Monash Rural Health; Dr Olivia King – Barwon Health; Dr Didir Imran – Colac Area Health; Tamara Holmes – Colac Area Health; Nick Sourlos – Colac Area Health; Fiona Murphy – Ballarat Health Services; Dr Jamie McGlashan – WorkSafe Victoria; Melissa Kennelly – Mildura Base Hospital; Lauren Zappa – Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria

Project summary:

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health emergency, resulting in enormous pressure on health systems and health-service staff across the world. To the best of our knowledge, no evidence yet exists on the impacts of the crisis on the health and wellbeing of rural health service staff. In the Australian context, rural health services play an integral role in their communities, contributing to community strength and sustainability. As a result, negative impacts on the wellbeing of health service staff members could lead to wider and lasting negative effects across already vulnerable rural communities.

This project is being driven by health service concerns for supporting the wellbeing of their staff. Anecdotally, there is increasing concern from health service executive staff about high stress and low wellbeing among rural health service workers, as a result of the evolving pandemic. Furthermore, retention of skilled healthcare workers is considered especially challenging in the rural setting under normal circumstances and the COVID-19 crisis may further negatively impact this underlying workforce vulnerability.

Using a repeat cross-sectional online survey and qualitative phone interviews, this study will investigate trends in staff health and wellbeing over time, in the context of trends in COVID-19 cases and government restrictions. We will explore the experiences of rural health service staff to generate recommendations for intervention and actions that will contribute to preserving the health and wellbeing of staff in rural health services in Western Victoria, Gippsland and Mildura. We also have support from WorkSafe and The Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Project: Evaluation of the expansion of telehealth through primary care in Australia – $48,500

Chief Investigator: Professor Anna Peteers

Associate Investigators: Elizabeth Manias – Deakin University; Kevin McNamara – Deakin Rural Health; Vincent Versace – Deakin Rural Health; Andrea Hernan- Deakin Rural Health; Martin Hensher – Deakin University; Marj Moodie – Deakin University; Lan Gao – Deakin University; Liliana Orellana – Deakin University; Laura Martin – Western Victoria Primary Health Network; Andrea Driscoll – Deakin University; Bodhil Rasmussen – Deakin University/Western Health; Peter Vuillermin – Barwon Health/Deakin University; Jaclyn Bishop – East Grampians Health Service; Kate Anderson – Deakin University; Andrew Sanigorski – Kardinia Health/Deakin University

Project summary:

In Australia, access to telehealth consultations through primary care has been limited. With many Australians disadvantaged by distance or lack of capacity to easily leave the house, there has been a long recognised need to shift to greater use of telehealth.

As a response to COVID-19, the Federal Government initially opened up a Medicare item for selected telehealth consultations for those requiring COVID-19 isolation in early March, and has now moved to offer much wider rebates on telehealth consultations. This unique situation provides an opportunity to evaluate a model of broad access to telehealth for primary Care.

The Institute for Health Transformation and its partners have the capacity to assess this change in health care delivery across the key areas requiring evaluation: quality of care, efficiency of service, equity of access, patient outcomes, patient experience, health worker experience, and health costs.