It had all the best intentions to help troubled and drug-addicted teens but New Plymouth youth health clinic Waves never quite got it right, failing at such simple things as locking up its own medicines.
The doors to the clinic closed last month after it failed to get funding of $35,000 a month it said it needed to continue operating.
The funding shortfall came after Midland Health Network axed its contract with Waves in the wake of a failed audit last year that painted a picture of risky medication management, sloppy processes, poor record keeping and inconsistent staff competencies.
Waves Trust chairman Garth Clarricoats admits it was their own fault and safety issues have absolutely damaged Waves' reputation.
"Now it's about rebuilding that trust and making the community aware that we have got things up to scratch and we can meet the requirements," he says.
But until it does the clinic is closed, something Waves founder, nurse practitioner and former chairwoman Louise Roebuck says will hurt Taranaki youth and the wider community. "There's going to be more crime, more admissions to emergency departments, more kids hanging out on the streets getting drunk, more terminations and more unplanned pregnancies," she says.
For a while, the door had remained ajar. Attempts to save Waves included asking the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) for a $35,000 bailout. But that was declined, the health board believing it more than the service was worth.
This isn't the first time Waves has come begging for money.
A string of top-ups from donations and sponsors has kept the organisation afloat over the last five stormy years.
In June 2009 Contact Energy, committed $100,000 a year to Waves and the following year two separate donations totalled $30,000.
Mr Clarricoats concedes hindsight proves Waves should have approached other youth organisations sooner and addressed the running of their own before it had to close the door.
"I'm the first to admit Waves has not been up to scratch in governance and administration," Mr Clarricoats says.
"It's not enough to just be passionate about a service," he says.
There are other youth organisations in Taranaki that agree it takes more than passion and they are surprised Waves' health service had survived so long on its own.
Neither the Young Peoples Trust nor Truancy North Taranaki District Service work with Waves - one chooses not to while the other has given up trying to make contact.
Young Peoples Trust founder Lynette West goes so far as to say she doesn't trust the organisation.
"If people want to look at our books then here they are and they're welcome to them, but Waves completely lacks transparency," she says.
Some of Waves' clients are already on other organisations' books and Ms West says in some cases Waves has completely undone other people's good work.
"We work with a number of other agencies because you have to.
"I hate that one-stop shop concept because it's never worked anywhere in New Zealand long-term and I can speak to that because I've been here 20 years," she says.
"There's so many agencies here in Taranaki already doing the work that haven't got enough government funding and are under-resourced.
"Then Waves came in and tried to reinvent the wheel and it hasn't worked."
The truancy service doesn't have a working relationship with Waves and truancy officer Allana Prestney has given up trying to develop one.
"Waves is the only youth organisation in the region that isn't proactive and doesn't have a relationship with the truancy service," she says.
Mr Clarricoats admits it was the policy of putting patients before compliance that pushed Waves over the edge.
"Waves staff chose to serve the people. There are two choices when you're under-resourced: Put the money at the coal face or spend it getting systems up to scratch and not seeing patients as a result."
Well-intentioned as it may have been, that choice created deficiencies the September audit laid bare. Prompted by safety and quality concerns flagged to the TDHB the audit found one high risk, eight moderate risks and three low-risk issues within Waves.
The high risk related to medication management and as a result Waves was forced to install lockable medication storage cabinets in each clinical room.
Mr Clarricoats doesn't accept safety risks were the only factor in Waves' downward spiral and expecting an organisation to be compliant without providing funding to do so is detrimental to any service, he says.
But there is no hiding from the blame Waves itself must shoulder. In the last five years Waves has had five different boards of directors and the chairman admits its performance was dysfunctional.
"Lots of community-minded people don't make a good board; it just makes a board with a lot of names.
"A good board is one that can strategically plan and some of the board members did not share the vision of the organisation," he says.
With a new board of directors and compliance issues such as international accreditation met, communication lines are open to seek new funding and Mr Clarricoats says Waves is back on track.
Quite what it will arrive at could be known very soon. The TDHB is now encouraging Waves to offer its Powderham St premises to other TDHB-funded providers to deliver services at the site, including public health organisation Tui Ora, which will next week discuss possible options for continued service at the youth health clinic.
Chief executive Hayden Wano says one of the considerations on the table is other health providers operating out of the Waves site.
But Mr Wano says building up confidence in areas including clinical governance, in respect of previous quality and safety issues at Waves, will be a factor in any new arrangement.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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