$2 million investment brings community dream a step closer


4 February 2020


Health minister David Clark’s announcement last week of $2 million for the expansion of the Waimarino Health Centre in Raetihi marks a big step forward for a community concept started in 2018.


“A community wellness centre, where all social and health services could be co-located for easy access and more effective services was a dream identified through engaging with families across southern Ruapehu,” said Ruapehu Whānau Transformation project manager Erena Mikaere this week.


Erena Mikaere, Ruapehu Whānau Transformation project manager

The proposal was submitted to the minister by the Whanganui District Health Board and its chief executive, Russell Simpson, said the project to extend the Waimarino centre, both physically and in the services it offered, was a testament to the efforts of the local community.


“This shows the value of co-designing with the community in creating solutions for the future wellbeing of people. It is also an important step in improving rural health services.”


He congratulated “all those who have worked tirelessly with the Ruapehu Whanau Transformation programme”.


Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron said it was a great example of the DHB working closely with a community – “This is an investment in the local community that will significantly enhance the delivery of health services.”


Ms Mikaere said the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation plan sought to enable whānau wellbeing and resilience across the areas of education, health, housing, employment and enterprise, and social areas of everyday life.


“It is an iwi-led, community-driven, whānau-focused plan for social change, informed by and for whānau (all families of all ethnicities) across our district.”


In 2018, she -- alongside Healthy Families -- led a research phase that sought an innovative model of care, informed by the needs and aspirations of whānau and community, for integrated services that were easily accessible and sustainable. Representatives from the district health board, Whanganui Regional Health Network, iwi and health professionals were on the steering group.


“Both stats and stories were collected throughout the project, which culminated in a potential design of a centre,” said Ms Mikaere. “The idea is that the normal services will still be available, except all under one roof if possible, plus the addition of more alternative health and prevention practices.


“The most pivotal part of the research included community workshops with local Ruapehu people aged nine years up to 75-plus years, inviting conversation on what was working now with our health system, what wasn’t working for them and what would they want to see in a wellness centre. 'Alternative wellbeing practices' and 'co-location' were the strongest messages received.

Judith MacDonald, Whanganui Regional Health Network chief executive

Judith MacDonald, Whanganui Regional Health Network chief ex


“Lego was used to visualise their dreams of what a wellness centre could look like. Interestingly, all the groups included alternative services -- rongoa Māori, alternative health/wellbeing practices. So, basically, our community want easier access to both western medical science and other science and knowledge systems and practices to lead their own wellbeing. It was a huge breakthrough to hear it coming from the masses of our community that engaged.”


She was realistic about what could be achieved with the $2 million investment, saying: “The full aspirations of our community may have to be realised across a few stages.”


“But this is huge achievement to have the voice of our community heard and invested in. This is testament to the high-trust relationship amongst the steering group, in particular that we have with Russell Simpson and Jude MacDonald (chief executive of the Whanganui Regional Health Network).


“We will support the DHB to continue to engage with our families and community at key points of the build project to ensure the original intentions and aspirations of the people are honoured as much as they can be.”


The Whanganui Regional Health Network owns and operates Ruapehu Health Ltd, the general practice clinic in Raetihi, and chief executive Jude MacDonald said she was delighted by the capital investment in an isolated rural community.


“Access to a range of services for this community is critical and sustainability will be reliant on the health services working as one unit.


“While the current services are only walking distance from each other, practically they are operating very differently. To have one connected service with all the staff working as one will improve efficiency and the quality of service the community receives.”


Ms MacDonald said she was looking forward to working alongside the community, iwi and stakeholders to get the right model and the right facility.