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Improving the Rural Patient Journey Initiative

The Improving Rural Patient Journey initiative was identified by the ACI Rural Health Network Executive and the rural local health district’s Chief Executive Group as an area of priority in 2018 and sits in alignment with the NSW Health Strategic Priority Number 2.3, to improve the patient experience and further engage with patients and carers.

The Initiative has been established to:

  • develop a consistent approach to meeting the social, emotional and practical needs of rural patients, carers and families when hospitalisation is required in an unfamiliar city, far from home
  • improve early identification of rurality to enable rural sensitivities to be factored into care planning and transfer of care back home to the rural community
  • To create a ‘go to’ place for rural patients, their carers and families to access information and resources to make a traumatic, trying time easier.

As a centralised resource for rural patients and their carers and families, information on the Friendly Faces Helping Hands Website, developed by Kelly Foran, includes a hospital directory for services and resources close to hospitals with links and phone numbers for affordable accommodation, parking, transport, food, retail and support workers (Aboriginal liaison officers, social workers, chaplaincy services).


Every year in NSW about 600 rural residents suffer a serious trauma which requires lengthy hospitalisation in a location far from home. Acute healthcare emergencies are distressing for all patients and their families, regardless of where they occur, but they pose additional challenges to people who live in rural regional and remote NSW.

In a series of consultations and interviews conducted in 2018, patients, carers and families highlighted the hardship and disadvantage experienced when suddenly displaced from home and support networks. These include emotional and social isolation, cultural shock and out of pocket costs associated with travel, accommodation and daily living for rural people; especially at a time of high anxiety and vulnerability.

Aboriginal patients and rural families who arrive at a tertiary referral hospital, a long way from kin and country and often for protracted periods of time, are particularly affected.

What we did

The Hon Mark Coulton MP and Kelly Foran 1

The Hon Mark Coulton MP with Kelly Foran CEO Friendly Faces Helping Hands Foundation.
photo taken in 2019, pre COVID-19

The Friendly Faces Helping Hands Foundation website, established in 2011, was identified as an existing resource. When faced with sudden and ongoing traumatic life-threatening health issues, the Foran family stumbled and struggled through seven hospitals in two states and three health systems. The process of obtaining essential specialist medical care meant the Forans had to regularly travel long distances and then face the daunting challenges of navigating city traffic, locating parking and finding suitable, affordable accommodation. The Foran family’s resilience throughout this period was challenged on many fronts and, as a result of her personal experiences, Kelly conceived the concept for the Friendly Faces Helping Hands Foundation and is the Chief Executive Officer. Since 2011, over 90,000 country people have been supported through times of crisis.

The website was redesigned, refreshed and relaunched by the Hon. Mark Coulton MP, Federal Minister for Reginal Health, Regional Communication and Local Government during National Carers Week October 2020. It provides a rich blend of culturally responsive content housing practical information and support for 28 metropolitan and rural referral hospitals in NSW and neighbouring states.

The Patient and Carer Checklist can be used as a prompt sheet for patients and their carers and families on admission, who, finding themselves in an unfamiliar city a long way from home don’t know who to speak to, what questions to ask, how to navigate the health system, how to navigate public transport, where to source accommodation and where to go for help.

In 2021, an Aboriginal Codesign group used the Aboriginal 8 Ways of Learning pedagogies to review the Friendly Faces Helping Hands website and create some culturally artistic resources for use by Aboriginal Organisations and communities to support their mobs when off country for healthcare.

Aboriginal 8 Ways of Knowing, Doing and Learning uses a pedagogy framework developed by Dr Tyson Yunkaporta. The pedagogies use 8 interconnected methods of story sharing, learning maps, non-verbal communication, symbols and images, land links, non-linear thinking, deconstruction/reconstruction of concepts and community links.

The following resources, created by Aboriginal artist Belinda Coe; Galarai Creative, are available to download and give to patients, carers and families:

  • Aboriginal Checklist on Admission - containing tips and prompts to empower rural families to ask questions, share information and be involved in shared decision making during the hospital journey.

Two versions of the Friendly Faces Helping Hands Flyer are available with QR Code to access the website from portable hand-held devices:

A freecall hotline is also available 1800 014 234

The Friendly Faces Helping Hands Foundation website is the ‘go to’ place for help at your fingertips. The website:

  • links rural communities to the major hospitals, health facilities and health resources within cities.
  • assists people to access quality information to make a trying, traumatic time easier.
  • helps, when people are a long way from home to get control of some of the situation.
  • bases all of this on lived experience.

‘Everyone gets thrown a bit of a challenge. But it’s how you rise up and deal with it that makes all the difference. After all, life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.’ – Kelly Foran

Friendly Faces Helping Hands

For further information email