Editorial: Make the tough decisions

Last updated 17:01 06/12/2012

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The closure of Maori health provider Te Rapuora o te Waiharakeke in Blenheim is a salutary lesson for other providers relying on government funding.

From the little information released by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, it appears the trust that runs the organisation did not make the tough decisions crucial to their survival. In recent years, funders had not renewed contracts, or had changed them, which reduced Te Rapuora's funding, but it maintained staffing at what seem to be inflated levels.

It also appears the organisation had been invoicing the health board for staffing it was not entitled to - an oversight that should not have happened considering the high number of administration staff it had. Among the staff of 22 in Blenheim were seven fulltime administration people, giving a ration of one office worker for every two clinical staff.

Manager Aroha Metcalf says that when she arrived in June, she discovered the finances were in bad shape. One option she considered was to halve the number of administration staff, but it just wasn't enough.

She began talking to the health board, which did a review and eventually went to the trust who quickly decided to close, putting the staff out of work and leaving 500 clients without care, including 128 mental health patients.

The health board has promised to find a new provider so the iwi and whanau members who most need care will not be left without it. Its time is running out before Te Rapuora shuts its doors in Grove Rd on December 21.

Perhaps one of the board's options is to hand the main contracts to an experienced care provider from outside the region that can bring in a manager to run the services with the clinical staff already here who are aware of the needs and of the clients.

The warning for other groups is that organisations running publicly funded services need to be as efficient and frugal as possible, channelling that funding directly into services rather than on generous office space and possibly under-worked support staff.

The closure of Te Rapuora is disappointing, but it could turn into a positive if it leads to the appointment - or creation - of a strong organisation that will provide the services needed, employing clinical staff who might otherwise move away from the region.

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- The Marlborough Express

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