The Matariki maternity unit in Te Awamutu is being avoided by women in the area because the Waikato District Health Board has let it become shabby and run down.
That was one of a series of messages delivered in no uncertain terms by residents to planning and funding general manager Brett Paradine and other health board staff at a public consultation in the town yesterday.
If there was any doubt the health board was out-of-step with Te Awamutu townsfolk, or the depth of feeling for keeping birthing facilities for women there, it would have been dispelled at the gathering attended by about 50 people. Much of the crowd at the Te Awamutu Information Centre was comprised of midwives, maternity carers and mothers who had given birth at Matariki.
Also there was Patricia Bayley, representing Rural Women NZ, who took the health board staff to task for not maintaining the unit as well as they should.
A similar meeting was held later in the day in Morrinsville, where the health board is also considering whether the local maternity unit should be closed down and "consolidated" to Hamilton.
The health board estimates cost savings of $1.29 million if the facilities in each town are closed. However expectant mothers living further afield could face a daunting extra 30-minute trek to Hamilton to have their babies delivered.
That would be dangerous to women in labour, said Shelley Wesselson, an independent midwife covering the Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti and Otorohanga areas and who had recently given birth at Matariki herself.
Seven months ago, when her daughter arrived, she was living 26 kilometres from Te Awamutu.
"By the time we got there I didn't want to be in a car anymore," she said. "It would have been a hell of a long way to come [to Hamilton]," she said. "I could not have made another 20 minutes up the road."
Similar sentiments were expressed at the Morrinsville meeting. Former district councillor Carole Greenville said $50,000 used to fund a feasibility study on whether the two units should be retained could have been better spent on upgrading theme.
Another midwife at the Te Awamutu meeting meeting said she knew of two people "seriously interested" in establishing a public-private partnership maternity service for the town - if the health board maintained its current allocation of funding. After the meeting she said she was unable to yet divulge the identities of the business people.
Mr Paradine said the health board had not received any proposals for such a model, but he was keen to find out more.
Also at the meetings was Chris Hendry from the Christchurch-based New Zealand Institute of Community Health Care, who was commissioned by the health board to undertake the feasibility study. She told the crowd her investigation was a holistic one and a "matrix of analysis" had been applied. "We did not want to focus just on the money."
Further consultation meetings will be held in January and February. Public submissions close on February 21.
- Waikato Times