UnitingCare Queensland originated from modest beginnings out of community services provided by the pioneering congregations of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches who reached out to people in the community who needed support. Some of this outreach work commenced in the latter years of the 19th Century and early part of the 20th Century however most developed around the end of World War II. The earliest services included supporting former prisoners, and providing food, clothing, blankets, medical and health care to people living in poverty.
What started as a collection of low-key, small scale and localised community services has grown over the years into one of Australia’s largest non-profit health and community service providers. UnitingCare Queensland now comprises Blue Care, UnitingCare Community and UnitingCare Health which deliver a broad array of services to a wide range of individuals and communities in more than 400 locations throughout Queensland.
1930s Like so many other organisations the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches of Queensland were placed under severe stress by the economic depression. Despite straitened circumstances the churches greatly expanded their social welfare operations at this time to assist the growing number of unemployed and their families and orphaned and homeless children.
1940s It was in the 1940s that the first steps were taken to a more formal organisation when St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church bought a local hospital in Maryborough (1948) – later called St Stephen’s Private Hospital. The Methodist Church purchased St Helen’s Hospital (1949) in South Brisbane on the site where the State Library sits today, which was to eventually evolve into The Wesley Hospital in Auchenflower. These hospitals later were later to come under the UnitingCare Health umbrella which now comprises St Stephen’s Hospitals in Maryborough and Hervey Bay, The Wesley Hospital and St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane and The Sunshine Coast Private Hospital in Buderim.
1950s During the 1950s the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches pioneered many new community services. This was a time when churches were the centre of the local community, there were relatively few government welfare services, little regulation of services and minimal government funding. In 1953, the Blue Nursing Service started from the West End Methodist Mission in Brisbane with just one nurse. The organisation rapidly expanded and diversified its capabilities to meet people’s needs across the state. In the meantime, the Presbyterian Church was developing a portfolio of aged care services which later also became part of the Blue Nursing Service. Now called Blue Care, this agency of UnitingCare Queensland today offers a diverse range of residential and community care services, operating from more than 250 centres.
1960s Another of today's key UnitingCare Queensland service groups, Lifeline Community Care, (now called UnitingCare Community) has its origins in the Lifeline telephone counselling service which was first established in Brisbane in 1964 – the third Lifeline telephone counselling centre established in Australia. In 1962 Rev Alan Walker started Lifeline after a harrowing call with a young man who was suicidal. Blue Nursing services expanded in towns around Queensland and aged care facilities were growing rapidly. As soon as facilities were built, they were quickly filled.
Family group homes were also established during this time when the decision was made to move away from large orphanages and children’s homes. Family group homes were small institutions where children in need of care were looked after by house parents, usually a married couple, and as far as possible children lived as a family.
By the end of the 1960s the growing health and hospital needs of Brisbane meant that further expansion was needed for the then St Helen’s Methodist Hospital. The Moorlands House site at Auchenflower was chosen as the new site to accommodate this expansion and the name “The Wesley Hospital” was selected. Meanwhile St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital became the first private hospital in Australia to provide an X-Ray unit.
Additionally, the 1960s was a period of de-institutionalisation for mental health and disability services and The Methodist Church assisted people to leave institutions. It established an early residential care ministry for people with intellectual disability.
Union of Churches
During the 1970’s all these various community service organisations grew rapidly and in 1977, with the coming together of the Congregational Union and the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches into the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod, all the disparate community services were drawn together under the one banner.
UnitingCare Queensland established
In 1999 the Uniting Church Assembly Standing Committee approved the name of UnitingCare Australia for the national body and UnitingCare Queensland was established soon after, followed by the launch of Uniting HealthCare (later to become UnitingCare Health) in June 2000 at the Wesley Hospital.
In 2002 all Queensland Lifeline centres merged with the community service arms of Families and Disability Services to become Lifeline Community Care Queensland under the UnitingCare Queensland banner. In 2011 Lifeline Community Care Queensland became UnitingCare Community and it provides a wide range of community support such as disability and family services, in addition to its well known Lifeline counselling services.
Until 2004 each of the service groups (Blue Care, UnitingCare Community and UnitingCare Health) had its own board. The structure was revised to streamline the governance and clarify roles and responsibilities. The service group boards were dissolved and a single, integrated model for decision making and accountability was established in the form of one UnitingCare Queensland Board with a single line of accountability.