Big petition fails to sway health board

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013

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The Southern District Health Board has voted against reinstating Presbyterian Support Otago as a home-based services provider, despite being handed a petition with more than 13,000 signatures.

The petition was presented at a health board meeting in Dunedin yesterday.

After the meeting, board chairman Joe Butterfield issued a statement saying it was clear the board needed to do further work to explain the reasons for its decision to the public and it would do so in an open way as soon as possible.

"We have been reluctant to do this when faced with possible legal action but now believe this is essential, regardless of that."

During the meeting, the board listened as community representatives as well as Presbyterian Support and Disability Resource Centre Southland management made a last plea for the health board to add both groups as joint providers, before it took a public-excluded vote in the afternoon.

Presbyterian Support chairman Frazer Barton, who has threatened legal action claiming the selection process was flawed, told the board of a "huge groundswell of support" for the two groups to continue providing home-based support.

"The people of Otago and Southland want services provided by people of Otago and Southland . . . we are not asking for you to accept a service that is second-rate . . . we are here for the long haul and we remain committed to the region."

Disability centre general manager Debbie Webster presented a box of 13,044 signatures gathered in a two-week period to the board, saying: "The people of our region ask you to reconsider."

Board members questioned the Presbyterian Support representatives on their public disappointment over the board's decision, announced before Christmas, to drop the organisation as a provider.

Board member Sandra Cook asked Mr Barton whether, if the outcome did not change, Presbyterian Support would put its "best foot forward" to ensure a smooth transition from one provider to another.

Mr Barton said clients and staff were unsettled his organisation would do its best to not unsettle them further.

Mr Butterfield said in the board meeting that board members had been restricted in their ability to comment because of the contractual process.

If all the facts were known, it would put people's minds at rest that the board had made the right decision, he said.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Barton said the announcement of the final vote was disappointing and Presbyterian Support was still considering legal action. This would be discussed by its board at a meeting on Tuesday, he said.

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