Tammy Waters and Mitch (Michele) Segal work together at Directions Health Services in the ACT. Tammy is the NSP Training and Stock Coordinator while Mitch is the Client Services Coordinator, Needle and Syringe Program.
Mitch: Both Tammy and I are coordinators, I look after staffing arrangements and rosters. Tammy looks after the stock elements and all the training. We are both across the two primary NSPs in the ACT – in Philip and in Civic (city centre). We also do deliveries every Thursday to all of the secondary NSPs in the ACT.
Anex Bulletin: What was your career before working at this NSP? What led you to where you are today?
Tammy: I was a hairdresser and I have a past of my own. I was an injecting drug user. Once I got myself clean I used to do haircuts for the Directions clients at $2 a cut and it went on from there. I’m now doing the stock and the training for the NSPs and I love it! I’ve been in my current role for seven years and I’ve worked for Directions for 15 years.
Mitch: I was previously a senior project officer at the ANU (Australian National University) here in Canberra. I have a degree in social work and wanted to return to community service work of some form, so I took a voluntary redundancy. My mum, who passed away seven years ago, used to work at the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Sydney. My mum loved the job so on the first day I started looking for work an NSP job came up in Civic. I felt I was following in mum’s footsteps. I first worked as a casual and six months later I got the coordinator role. I’ve been in my current role for three years.
AB: What’s the most satisfying part of working in the NSP?
Tammy: Doing what we do! Looking after our clients, making life better for them, taking away some of that stigma and discrimination that comes with the injecting drug use. Just making a difference in clients’ everyday life and showing them that they are a person. I’m a bit passionate. We love our jobs we love the people we work with.
Mitch: To make a difference in somebody’s life by perhaps being the first person that day who has smiled at them. Something both Tammy and I work really hard at is developing relationships with our clients.
You really can make a difference in someone’s life just by being friendly and being available and, as Tam said, not being judgmental and helping to take away some of the stigma they’ve faced through the whole course of their day, week or month.
AB: Why do you enjoy working with each other?
Tammy: Mitch is like my little sister. Mitch and I just jelled from the beginning when we first met. We’ve got very similar reasoning for why we are working in NSP.
Mitch: For me, Tammy impressed me from the very first time I met her. Tammy trained me – I had no AOD experience whatsoever. I was a bit intimidated by Tam at first as the level of knowledge she has is just huge. She knows her stuff really, really well. Tammy mentored me through my career change.
Mitch: Our NSP is a very confined space – so you need to be able to get along with your co-workers! We don’t just get along but really look forward to coming to work.
Tammy: I was at work an hour early today, as I knew I was working with Mitch!
AB: What are the most valuable hints or tips you have learnt from your co-worker?
Tammy: I’ve learnt from Mitch’s compassion and her genuine caring for everyone. Sometimes, after 15 years, you get a little jaded, but Mitch has really reinforced why I’m here and why I do what I do. I love working with her and I love teaching her. She’s like a sponge.
Mitch: I’ve learnt everything from Tam! Looking back I think I was quite judgemental in my own cotton wool world and I was scared. Tammy has not only taught me everything I know on the equipment side but also on the human side. That it doesn’t matter what you see on the outside of a person – the inside is very different. We are all the same underneath.
Tammy: We are all broken in different ways.
Mitch: Yes, and that doesn’t make us any better or any worse, it just makes us different. If you work with those differences you can really make something beautiful.
AB: What does Mitch do best at the NSP?
Tammy: I’m impressed with the way she treats the clients. She’s amazing with them. Also with the staff – she’s compassionate, she’s there, she’s a family person who understands and recognises all of that. She bends over backwards and juggles things to help staff.
We get on really well. We work really well together. We respect each other’s knowledge.
AB: What does Tammy do best at the NSP?
Mitch: She does make me laugh! Tammy is actually an extraordinary trainer. To watch her in action is quite phenomenal. I’ve recently started trying to attend more of Tammy’s training sessions so I can learn more from her and pick her brain. It means I can cover for her if ever she wants to go on extended leave.
Tam: I’m the only trainer in the ACT – that’s why I’m trying to get Mitch up to speed.
AB: What are your top tips for other workers, particularly about encouraging safer injecting and preventing blood-borne virus transmission?
Mitch: Build trust with your clients. Build rapport. That’s the best way to get people on board. Once you have that trust and rapport people are more open to listening to you and taking on board any information you might want to give them.
Tammy: Be prepared to be open. If I see one of our clients not looking real well or something like that I will approach them in professional way but not push information on them. I might say: “I notice you’re not looking too well. Do you want a chat? Is there anything we can do for you?” Often doing that opens up real windows.
Have open lines of communication and don’t have one bit of stigma or discrimination or anything like that as clients are going to pick up on that and won’t give you a very good time over it.
Mitch: You don’t know who is coming in the door and what’s going on for them. You need to be able to make a quick assessment when someone walks in the door. Pick up on the non-verbal cues to see what their needs might be today, in addition to injecting equipment. Quickly determine the best way to talk to them, to approach them, how to make things a little bit better for them today. Let them know you are here for them.
Tam: Being open, being honest, not stigmatising or judging. We’re not here to judge clients, we’re here to get them through their journey as happily and as healthily as we possibly can.
Mitch: You need to meet people where they are at. As long as you keep doing that you are making progress.
– Sophie Marcard