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A message from CEO Mark Powell


“I am beyond disappointed that The Lookout has once again been overlooked in the 2024-25 Victorian State Budget but remain committed to making this essential residential rehabilitation facility a reality.

This disappointment is in my capacity as CEO of WRAD Health and also as a former Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Clinician, where I know the absence of this facility will cost lives and continue to tear apart families.

But I will not lose hope. The Lookout represents a beacon of hope for individuals struggling with addiction in south-west Victoria. With the support of government funding and community stakeholders, we can transform lives, strengthen communities, and pave the way towards a brighter, healthier future for all.

I stand ready to continue these conversations so that instead of community disappointment again in 12 months’ time, we are sitting down with architects to make The Lookout a reality.

I will continue working with the Victorian State Government to ensure The Lookout is a reality in the 2025-26 State Budget.

The need for a dedicated AOD Residential Rehabilitation facility in south-west Victoria has been evident for more than a decade. WRAD Health has been pursuing the development of The Lookout for more than seven years, driven by a comprehensive demand analysis that underscores the urgency for such a facility in the Great South Coast region. It is well supported by a range of community services and community members with more than $1 million pledged or donated to get this project off the ground.

The statistics paint a stark picture of the challenges faced by our communities.

In 2023, WRAD Health’s AOD clinical services delivered 826 treatment episodes, with alcohol being the primary drug of concern for 53% of cases. Unfortunately, demand outweighs treatment provision.

Health perspective data from 2012-2021 shows;

• There were 8,302 hospitalisations where drugs were the main reason for admission in Warrnambool, Southern Grampians, Glenelg, Corangamite and Moyne.

• For a similar time period there were 5,844 alcohol and drug related ambulances attendances across Warrnambool Moyne, Glenelg, Corangamite, and Southern Grampians.

Further, there were 2,173 deaths related to alcohol and illicit drugs within the Corangamite, Glenelg, Moyne, Southern Grampians and Warrnambool areas. These numbers do not reflect road deaths, but where is our ‘Towards Zero’ campaign?

Criminality has also seen an increase. In Warrnambool we have seen an overall 13.8% increase in offending with rates of Family Violence up 18.5%, higher than state average with women 81% of the affected family members. Incidents involving assault are up, incidents involving breach of family violence orders are up, drug possession is up. Similarly in Glenelg, increased rates of breach of FV order and drug possession as well criminal damage.

The absence of a dedicated AOD Residential Rehabilitation facility exacerbates these issues, leaving individuals and families without access to the crucial support they need to overcome addiction. Without proper intervention, the cycle of substance misuse perpetuates, leading to further strain on healthcare systems, law enforcement, and social services.

The Lookout, spearheaded by WRAD Health, aims to address this pressing need by providing evidence-based, proven treatment in a supportive and therapeutic environment. By offering comprehensive programs tailored to individual needs, including counselling, medical services, and supported accommodation, the facility will empower individuals to reclaim their lives and reintegrate into society without the need to return to substance use.

Despite repeated calls and extensive efforts, the lack of commitment from government bodies to support the establishment of the facility is deeply concerning. It is imperative that stakeholders recognise the urgency of the situation and allocate the necessary resources to bring this vital project to fruition.”

Mark Powell confirmed as new CEO


WRAD Health has confirmed its new CEO with Mark Powell being formally appointed after seven months acting in the role.

Mr Powell had been interim CEO since July 1, 2023 after the retirement of Geoff Soma.

Board chair Helen Taylor said Mr Powell brought a wealth of experience in drug and alcohol treatment and mental health.

“During his period as acting CEO, Mark has displayed an ability to enthusiastically foster a positive team and introduce further network connections for WRAD Health,” Ms Taylor said.

“His work in family liaison has been immensely positive and supportive. Mark has a wonderful compassion for humankind and works tirelessly to achieve the best outcomes.”

Ms Taylor said Mr Powell was continuing to strive for the establishment of the Lookout Rehabilitation facility. “Mark communicates regularly with the Department of Health, Local members, other residential rehabilitation centres, Philanthropic groups, VAADA, and collects data to drive our dream,” she said.

Mr Powell, who had worked in the role one day a week in the lead-up to Mr Soma’s retirement and has been acting in the position full-time since July 1, 2023, said he embraced the challenge.

“For many years I have been a clinician delivering services to people, so moving into the role of CEO was a big change of focus but I’ve really embraced leading an agency that does a tremendous job for the community,” Mr Powell said.

“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help influence change and the ability to connect with the community, other agencies, peak bodies and departmental heads which doesn’t happen so much in a clinical role but has been a real benefit.”

Mr Powell said he was enjoying the opportunity to talk to local community groups about the role of WRAD Health and to build on the organisation’s positive reputation.

“That has been rewarding because we want to get a message to the community that change is possible,” he said. “I get a lot of good questions about what we do and the services we offer and people appreciate the services we offer.”

Mr Powell said he was keen to continue delivering a service that meets the complex health needs of people across the region. “We’re constantly looking at ways we can grow our service offerings,” he said.

“We now offer psychological services, dietitian, dual diagnosis programs as well as expanded bulk billing medical services. One good example is a program connecting with homeless people that removes some of the barriers to them accessing treatment.

“Ultimately, we want to be a service that is responsive to people with all types of complex health needs.”

Mr Powell said he was proudly taking up the mantle to lead the drive for the Lookout Rehabilitation Centre. “The community supports this project and we’re not dropping the baton on it,” he said.

Mr Powell joined WRAD Health in 2019 as Senior Alcohol and Other Drug Clinician before moving into the role of Operations Manager in 2020.

He has worked in mental health and alcohol and other drug fields for more than 30 years.

Chris Kendall is continuing as interim operations manager in addition to his role as clinical coordinator.

Ruby Hunter welcomed as WRAD Health Patron


The late Ruby Hunter will be honoured as a Patron of WRAD Health.

Following discussions with her family, WRAD Health today announced that it was proud to welcome Ruby Hunter as a Patron of the centre that provides health related services in South West Victoria.

Ruby is WRAD Health’s third patron, joining her long-time partner Archie Roach AM and author Paul Jennings AM.

WRAD Health will honour her name with recognition on the centre’s honour board and on the WRAD Health website.

Recently retired CEO Geoff Soma, who instigated the recognition, said Ruby was a glowing example of what can be achieved through soul searching, grit and determination and love for her people and her family.

“We celebrate her wonderful life and it is pleasing that Archie and Ruby’s names will be embedded in WRAD Health’s rich history, alongside Paul Jennings,” he said.

Ruby was an Indigenous singer, art performer, mother and song writer and was born in South Australia.  She has also published children’s fiction and poetry as well as a musical based on her life.

Ruby, who died in 2010 aged 54, was part of the Stolen Generation and suffered many traumas over time.

Her early teens were affected by substance misuse, homelessness and chaotic and painful memories.

Throughout all of this she was a strong and proud Ngarrindjeri/ Kokatha/ Pitgantgatgara woman.

“Ruby Hunter rose above significant adversity and stood tall in her support for Aboriginal women. music and the arts,” Mr Soma said. “She was a strong role model for young people suffering from issues related to substance misuse.”

In her song “Down City streets”, Ruby highlighted alcohol abuse that she used to cope with her difficult life. In the line “Understand how street kids feel when they are put down” she spoke of her feelings and empathy for those struggling with life’s challenges.

Mr Soma said WRAD Health acknowledged Ruby’s family for allowing the centre to promote her as a “beacon of hope and courage for clients and families”. Her songs and story will encourage and inspire others along the recovery road.

New program brings healthcare to homeless people


A new pilot program will deliver healthcare directly to south-west Victorians experiencing homelessness.

WRAD Health, with funding from WestVic Primary Health Network, is embarking on a pilot program for six months to bring medical services to those who may be experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough. The team of a nurse, alcohol and other drug clinician and doctor will work together with existing support services to the homeless to provide access to healthcare.

The WRAD Health Project Connect aims to engage people into comprehensive medical care through provision of a holistic approach providing the opportunity for assessment of a person’s physical health needs and if required further assessment and management of drug and alcohol and/or mental health related conditions.

WRAD Health operations manager Mark Powell said every night, thousands of people sleep rough on Australian streets because they don’t have access to safe, secure housing. “They are some of our most vulnerable people who can have complex health needs that deserve expert care outside the structures of the current office-based medical services,” Mr Powell said.

It is estimated that 50 people in every 10,000 are experiencing homelessness in Australia.

Mr Powell said not all people sleeping rough use drugs and alcohol. “However, we know from research that those people experiencing homelessness are at greater risk for developing substance use problems as they strive to cope with the stress and challenges of homelessness.

“WRAD Health hopes to deliver a sustainable model that can continue to meet the health needs of those vulnerable members of our community.”

For more information ring 55 645 777 or to make an appointment.



A new after-hours service to provide general practice, mental health and alcohol and other drug support will be introduced for the Warrnambool region.

The Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre (WRAD) incorporating Handbury Medical Suites, has received funding from PHN Western Victoria to trial the evening service for 12 months from July 4.

WRAD operations manager Mark Powell said it was the first of its type in the Great South Coast region and would give people more options to access care.

“We have been concerned that not everyone can access services under the traditional business hours model,” Mr Powell said. “Over time we’ve had requests from people for appointments in the evening and are aware there is a group of people for which business hours appointments just aren’t suitable. We are excited to see what demand we are able to service through this trial.”

The service will be available on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6-8.30pm and will provide a variety of AOD, mental health and GP services.

“We thank PHN Western Victoria for giving us this opportunity to assess what sort of demand there is,” Mr Powell said.

“It could potentially change the nature of how we deliver services. I’m not aware of anything similar in the Great South Coast region so it’s an exciting opportunity to enhance access to services and improve clinical outcomes and to help people who are struggling with health-related problems.”

At this stage, existing WRAD staff will cover the evening sessions and provide its regular suite of alcohol and other drug interventions but also offer single session services where a person may just want to talk about their current issues to work out their options. WRAD will also offer group work for individuals and for families and friends affected by substance use as well as general medical practice services.

The service is also available across the region. “We’re not restricting ourselves to an office-based model,” Mr Powell said. “We have developed skills using telehealth during COVID-19 so we can provide services to regional and rural areas.

“We’re quite excited about being able to expand the accessibility of our services to a wider group of people.”

Mr Powell said WRAD believed the service could ease pressure on emergency departments and other health related services. “I believe that if people can get access to services earlier this may offset more urgent emergency care later on. This trial is part of trying to create an accessible service for earlier intervention.”

He added that drug and alcohol related problems contribute significantly to acute hospital admissions and emergency department attendance. “Anything that can be done to reduce the harms of substance use and promote earlier intervention is a positive step.

“Community-based programs that offer accessible services may help to reduce this burden on already over stretched health resources,” he added.

People will need to make phone bookings to access the after-hours service by calling 55 645777 or visit the website or email .

For drug and alcohol issues, call Directline 1800 888236, or WRAD 55 645777

Sliding Doors video


Check out our new video about the Sliding Doors non-residential rehab program

WRAD AGM November 22


New family drug help sessions for south-west Victoria


A series of new free online support sessions in south-west Victoria will bring help for people whose loved ones are battling drug and alcohol dependency.

The InFocus sessions will start on October 21 and are specifically for the Great South coast region. 

InFocus is a free education program developed by Family Drug and Gambling Help that offers practical support, relevant information, coping strategies and the opportunity for people to connect through their shared experiences.

The sessions are a partnership between the Great South Coast Drug and Alcohol Consortium led by Western Region Alcohol and Drug Service (WRAD) and Family Drug and Gambling Help at the Self Help Addiction Resource Centre.

Family support group coordinator Fiona Anderson said online sessions allowed the convenience of attending without travelling great distances and for concerned family members to be anonymous if they wish.

“In regional communities, people can be worried about having their story known so being online can be helpful in that respect,” Ms Anderson said.

InFocus was developed by family members for family members and is facilitated by professionals who have also been impacted by someone’s drug and alcohol use.

“It’s more relevant to families because they’re going through the emotions, fear and stigma,” Ms Anderson said. “At times, others who have not had that lived experience may find those emotions difficult to understand.  While we acknowledge that there may be times that separation may be the safest choice in some circumstances, the vast majority of family members accessing our services really want to stay connected to their loved one who is using substances.”

The weekly 90-minute sessions include time for people to share stories and experiences and follow a detailed program with practical, relevant and valuable information for family members. Participants also receive a manual.

Ms Anderson said the sessions were not about telling family members what to do, or what not to do. “We understand and know what they’re going through, but we try not to give advice about what a family member should do,” she said. “We can say what works for other people and what the research tells us, and families have the opportunity to see what works best in their individual situation. The important thing is that they are not alone, and that support is available.”

Ms Anderson said sometimes others who have not been in similar situations may say that a family member can’t live with their loved one because of their behaviour, “but try saying that to a parent; the thought of their child living on the street would be gut-wrenching.”

The sessions discuss different options that might work for families and have led to many success stories, with the focus on the family rather than the person experiencing dependency.

“Many family members come to us and say how can I help them, how can I fix them, how can I make it better for them? Our program focusses on the family member. We challenge their thinking about how they can make it work for themselves and for the family, how they can make their lives more manageable while at the same time doing what they need for their loved one.  Family members often comment on how much their self-care has improved and that they are more able to cope.”

“We often find when a family member focuses on themselves, they become role models for their loved ones and, shifting family dynamics and reducing anger and resentment

“It allows them to have a relationship with their loved one. They can distinguish between the person they know and love and the substance they are using and their behaviours. They can love the person, but not love their behaviour.”

Ms Anderson said there had been an upswing in problems during the pandemic. “Alcohol use is definitely on the rise, along with depression, anxiety and family violence.”

“You don’t have to accept their behaviour, but we can though do our best to remember   they’re not doing what they’re doing to hurt you.”

The sessions run from 10.30 to 12 noon on Thursdays from October 21 to November 25, 2021.

Bookings are essential. Phone Family Drug and Gambling Help at SHARC on 1300 660 068.

People seeking help can also contact WRAD on 55 645777.

Diversity welcomed


WRAD has installed a sign to promote the acceptance of people of cultural difference and diversity being welcomed at our centre.

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Need After Hours Help?

Emergency call 000
For medical issues call South West Healthcare 55 631666
For mental health issues call SWH emergency dep't 55 631 666 or 1800 808 284
For drug and alcohol issues call Directline 1800 888 236
For Lifeline call 13 11 14
Or click on the links below for help.