Maori health service to close

The biggest Maori health provider in Marlborough, Te Rapuora o te Waiharakeke, will close at the end of the year because of financial problems.

Te Rapuora manager Aroha Metcalf said the 22 staff working for Te Rapuora in Marlborough and 9 in Nelson would stay in their jobs until December 31.

There was a risk Maori health in Marlborough could deteriorate as a result of the closure, Miss Metcalf said. However, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board had promised to find replacement programmes for its 505 individual and whanau (family) clients in Marlborough and 192 in Nelson within two weeks.

Miss Metcalf became Te Rapuora manager in June and soon discovered its finances were in bad shape. At first she thought the trust could survive through belt-tightening such as reducing fulltime administration positions from 7 to 3.4 but the savings made were not enough.

"I certainly did not come into the organisation to close it down or to be the last manager, but I do support the trust in its decision to close," Miss Metcalf said. "We can't balance the books between expenditure and revenue."

Staff were shocked, upset and also angry to be told at a meeting on Thursday they would lose their jobs, she said. A union delegate was there to offer support.

The district health board was Te Rapuora's main funder providing 80 per cent of its work, she said. The Health Ministry funded 15 per cent and the Social Development Ministry 5 per cent.

In recent years funders failed to renew Te Rapuora contracts or changed them, which caused a drop in revenue, partly due to the health board's Rutherford Initiative, which cut funding of services, including mental health services, to tackle its own deficit.

Te Rapuora and four other providers in the top of the south jointly applied for new Health Ministry contracts through its Whanau Ora programme but were unsuccessful, she said.

"In this economic environment there is no new money."

The drop in income was not matched with reduced expenditure, she said. Costs for items such as petrol and electricity kept rising and rent for their building on the corner of Grove and Opawa roads became unaffordable.

Financial problems with a previous staff member were not, in her view, a contributing factor. The board and trust resolved these issues and money was refunded.

Te Rapuora was the sole provider of Maori mental health services in Marlborough, helping 128 individuals, Miss Metcalf said.

Other services included health screening and promotion, a kaumatua programme for the elderly, help with navigating health services, disability support and rongoa mirimiri (gentle massage) for about 160 Maori and non-Maori clients with chronic pain caused by conditions including diabetes and cancer.

People could expect more changes in Maori health services at the beginning of the next financial year in July 2013, Miss Metcalf said. All providers were under pressure to streamline services, not necessarily through closures but by making sure there was no doubling up.

The district health board had promised that any savings made would be spent solely on Maori health, she said.

Te Rapuora trustees decided to close on Wednesday, told staff on Thursday and on Friday, and announced the closure in a joint press release with the health board, Miss Metcalf said.

District health board Maori health director Harold Wereta said a routine review of Te Rapuora, completed in October, identified major financial and service delivery problems which the board raised with trustees and managers, who decided closure was the best option. The board was holding urgent talks with Maori health and other service providers towards maintaining services for Te Rapuora clients.

Te Rapuora was the first Maori health provider in the South Island and has served the Maori community for 26 years.

The Marlborough Express