It was November 2011 and Nandita was rock-climbing with her friends in the Cathedral Ranges when her accident happened.
“They were all professionals and I was just a novice, I was trying it out.”
Nandita slipped and fell 40 metres, fracturing her skull. She was airlifted to hospital where she remained for two and a half weeks before going to rehab. While Nandita made a complete physical recovery, she had to live with the side effects of her Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).
After the accident Nandita had tried to continue work but the symptoms of her injury made this difficult. This led to financial stress and with a number of loans and rent to pay, she was at risk of becoming homeless. Eventually, she could no longer work.
“I have headaches. It's like a concussion, like a lifelong concussion, or if you have four or five glasses of wine and you are tipsy. I am dizzy constantly. A lot of people miss that, they don't see it because I look perfect and fine, and that's how I lost everything, I lost my money, everything,” Nandita said.
In 2017 Nandita began outpatient therapy through The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Community Therapy Service, to help her regain her independence. Her Social Worker Tanaya learnt of Nandita’s financial situation and referred her to see a lawyer from Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL), a community legal service the RMH has partnered with to form a ‘Health-Justice Partnership’ which aims to provide free legal advice to patients.
This is where Maie Gibney, Senior Lawyer from IMCL, first met Nandita.
“Her social worker wrote a letter of support outlining what had been going on for her over the last few years and we wrote off to the various debt collectors and requested that they take her circumstances into account,” Maie said.
“We had a really great result for Nandita in that about $50,000 of her outstanding debts were waived, which allowed her to focus on her therapy and essentially move forward with her life.”
For Nandita, this was an enormous weight off her shoulders.
“If it wasn’t for the referral from the hospital’s Social Work department, I would not have known that this legal service existed. I would have just gotten into more and more debt.
My mental health had a lot to do with it – the debts were impacting my ability to think straight and my ability to cope. Now I am actually able to breathe and fully focus on my therapy. It’s like a huge chunk of my stress is relieved and I can plan for my future,” Nandita said.
Georgina Hanna, Workforce Development Manager, Social Work at the RMH said that coming to hospital can be a very stressful time for patients.
“We know that some of our patients have extra stressors in their lives which can make it harder for them to concentrate on their health, and by helping to address some of these issues, we can improve the health outcome for our patients,” Georgina said.
Through the RMH’s partnership with Inner Melbourne Community Legal, a visiting lawyer comes to the hospital every week to provide free legal advice for patients who may have legal issues to resolve such as housing problems, Centrelink, intervention orders, family violence, criminal law and consumer disputes.
“The feedback from our patients has been really positive. Over the last two years, we’ve been able to help over 100 patients through this service, with over 70 per cent of them acknowledging that their legal issue was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing,” Georgina said.
Patients of The Royal Melbourne Hospital can access free legal advice by making an appointment with a qualified lawyer from Inner Melbourne Community Legal. To make an appointment, call 9013 0495 or 9342 7566 or speak with your treating team. Visit our Legal Advice page for further information.
To hear more about how Health-Justice Partnerships have helped patients like Nandita, listen to the Law Report on Radio National.
Pictured: Nandita at the RMH Royal Park Campus.