Loss of contract 'worries' caregivers

19:11, Jan 15 2013

A Southland caregiver says home-help staff and clients are distressed and uncertain about their future care, three weeks after the Southern District Health Board said it would not renew the contract with Disability Resource Centre Southland.

The centre - which is partnered with Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) - has held the contract for 15 years and employs about 220 staff in Southland.

Although contracts for Access Homehealth and Healthcare of New Zealand will continue, the board has not renewed the PSO contract and has not given an explanation for the decision. Australian-owned company the Royal Nursing Service has been chosen instead.

PSO and Disability Resource Centre Southland general managers have vowed to fight the decision and are seeking legal advice.

Caregiver Gwen Martin said staff felt uncertain about being transferred to a new provider and they were unsure what to tell clients when questioned.

The health board said last month that "affected staff would be supported to transfer to a new provider", but it was not clear if caregivers will stay with the same clients.

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She had been with some clients for four years, Ms Martin said.

The upheaval was especially hard on clients with Alzheimer's and dementia, she said.

"They get to know you. It takes a long time to build up trust. They want to know who is going to be taking care of them and we can't give them any answers.

"We're worried and stressed out, but we're trying to keep up a brave face [for the clients]."

The centre also provided a courtesy hospital van, discounts on rentals such as wheelchairs and crutches, and employed a recreational therapist.

Centre general manager Debbie Webster said it was questionable whether the free services would continue under a new provider. There was no clear answer about why the contract was not being renewed, she said.

In response to questions about why the contract was not renewed and if the free and discounted services would continue, board executive director of finance and funding Robert Mackway-Jones only replied that the selection process was "fair and robust".

The board was working to ensure clients still had the same support worker where possible.

New providers would be able to offer "an enhanced model of care" supporting people to remain independent, and was fair and consistent across the district, he said.

The Southland Times