There are silver linings in every crisis. Leading and advocating for allied health in a pandemic

Adj Ass Prof Donna Markham1, Sharon Downie2, Kerrie Walter1

1Safer Care Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 2Department of Health, Melbourne, Australia

The year 2020 brought unprecedented challenges and change across Australia as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic evolved, and also coincided with Victoria’s recovery from significant bushfires in the northeast of the state. In March, the first Victorian COVID-19 lockdown commenced, and by June, has escalated to extended stage 3 and 4 restrictions as the state became the epicentre of Australia’s second-wave.

During the turmoil of the second-wave response, Victoria’s Chief Allied Health Officer (CAHO) and Manager – Allied Health Workforce worked with their teams to lead and advocate for Allied Health. This was achieved through an integrated approach of influencing and information-sharing between sector allied health leaders, professional associations, industry bodies, universities and senior government decision-makers.

During stage 3 and 4 restrictions, the Victorian Allied Health sector was confronted with having to justify the continuation of their services in primary care settings, as well as defining which professional groups constitute Allied Health. Responding to practitioners, recognising their loss, grief and anger, and advocating for a ‘place at the table’ was of vital importance.

Through adversity, Victoria’s Allied Health sector have demonstrated a capacity to work flexibly and collegially to address complex policy and public health issues, and have forged new and enduring professional connections and alliances.

This presentation will share the lived experience of the Victorian CAHO and Manager – Allied Health Workforce during Victoria’s second-wave pandemic response, and their reflections on how best to influence, negotiate, and strive for optimal outcomes for Allied Health professionals and those in their care.


Joining SCV in June 2018, Donna is a qualified occupational therapist and has worked in healthcare for more than 17 years. Donna has led many significant allied health reforms, workforce development changes, and research projects. She is a mum of two boys and advocates for the important role women play both at home and in the workplace, particularly in executive leadership.

She has worked in both public and private health in a variety of senior management and leadership roles, and was a finalist for the Telstra Victorian Young Business Women’s Award in 2014. Donna is a graduate of the Williamson Community Leadership Program and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She has an adjunct academic appointment at Monash University.

As the Chief Allied Health Officer, she champions key SCV projects and provides expert advice to the CEO and the Department of Health on quality and safety matters.

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