THE Opotiki Community Health Centre will no longer open 24 hours. Photo Sven Carlsson OS0196-01

Opotiki nursing service downgrades, closes

HEALTH services in Opotiki may suffer a serious downgrade following two shock announcements.

As of Sunday, the Opotiki Community Health Centre will no longer open 24 hours and will instead be closed between 10pm and 8am.

The night-time closure comes as nurses employed by the Opotiki Independent Nursing Service (OPINS) learned this week that their jobs would end on March 1, 2020 when the health centre would move to an “integrated care model” with the contract for after-hours services returning to the local GP group.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief operating officer Pete Chandler said the OPINS had advised the health board it was unable to continue to provide a night-time nursing service at the health centre, effective December 1. This meant the health centre would be open from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week,”

Experienced nurse Donna Snelling, who along with other nurses at the health centre is employed on a month-to-month contract, is in despair not only at her own situation but the lack of communication and consultation with the community.

She said the immediate cut to the night-time service would seriously impact those with life-threatening health concerns.

“We’ve had eight-year-olds ringing the doorbell, their lips blue, in full anaphylactic shock,” she said.

The Opotiki News has spoken to several residents who say they have relied on the nursing services in this exact scenario.

Susan Woods has two EpiPens for her daughter who suffers from allergic reactions.

“We inject her with one pen and then drive down to the hospital,” she said. “By that time her lips have turned blue again.”

Opotiki Rotary president Erica Tingcombe suffers from the same condition.

“Normally I end up in hospital,” she said. “The pen saves you.”
The closure will not only impact emergencies but will affect the care able to be offered to new mothers.

“The midwives often use the premises and the services of the Opotiki Independent Nursing Service during birthing,” Mrs Snelling said.

“After birth, the mother has to be under care for at least four hours, and the nurses have been doing this, freeing up the midwife for other work.”

Opotiki midwife Lisa Kelly said the closure was unacceptable.

Ms Kelly said discussion about cutting hours at the centre had been happening over this year but there had been no formal notification to midwives of the night-time closure.

“We’ve just been told by the nurses,” she said.

“The public needs to know about this, they have a right to know,” she said.

She is worried about coastal residents, particularly pregnant women, coming into town in the early hours of the morning to find the centre closed.

She said the new hours meant families and new mothers would also no longer be able to stay at the centre overnight, having to leave on the same day they gave birth and preventing any postpartum care.

Opotiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said she and other parties had been invited to a meeting today, called by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, to learn about a new GP-based health care model.

She said it was an invitation-only briefing being held at the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board.

Opotiki used to have a GP-based after-hours health care system, which ended as doctors became overworked and decided they wanted to do other things with their time.

The after-hours system ran in parallel to the care provided by the Opotiki Independent Nursing Services.

Mrs Snelling is grateful to OPINS manager Nina Maxwell who fought for the nurses’ three-month notice, which allows them to work until March 1.

“Otherwise we would have been released from our duties just before Christmas.”

She said advertisements seeking nurses to work for OPINS hadn’t attracted a single reply.

“That’s because it’s not an attractive offer,” Mrs Snelling said.

“We have been operating on a month-to-month contract from the health board, every four weeks there has been the possibility I could lose my job.”

Mrs Snelling, who has extensive experience as an Intensive Care Unit nurse in both New Zealand and Australia, said she and other experienced nurses who lived in Opotiki now faced unemployment.

“Unfortunately, my husband passed away in February; I now face life as an unemployed, single mother of two children.”

The safety of women, babies is paramount – DHB

THE Bay of Plenty District Health Board is assuring the Opotiki community that cuts to the night-time nursing service at the Opotiki Community Health Centre, and the termination of nurses’ contracts, do not mean the centre is closing.

“We are committed to working with the community and local stakeholders, as we have done over the last four years,” chief operating officer Pete Chandler said.

“We are working with the community to develop a new local primary model of care working with other health providers in the town to ensure we have a robust model of health care in the Opotiki area, for the future.”

He acknowledged that the stakeholder meeting being held in Opotiki today was “later than we would have liked”.

Advertisements in newspapers and on the radio, signage at the health centre and a telephone system at the centre will alert the public to the changes.

Mr Chandler said as the Opotiki Independent Nursing Service was no longer able to provide a night-time service, there would be no overnight postnatal care available in Opotiki.

The district health board was suspending the services of the Opotiki Primary Maternity Unit based at the health centre from December 1 to March 30, 2020 due to inadequate staffing of midwives.

“The safety of women and their babies is paramount in this decision,” Mr Chandler said.

“Like the rest of the country we are facing a shortage of midwives and that’s had an impact on our ability to keep operating safely in this timeframe.”

Mr Chandler said there were insufficient midwives in the area to provide back-up to the woman’s lead-maternity-carer midwife to support women to deliver their babies safely at the Opotiki Community Health Centre’s maternity unit.

“We know this decision will have an impact on expectant mothers who are due to give birth at Opotiki Maternity Unit and we apologise for the impact this will have on their birthing plans,” he said.

“We cannot solve these issues alone and are committed to working with the community to build a sustainable and equitable maternity system across our whole district.”

Mr Chandler said the district health board had been in discussions with midwives in Opotiki and other health providers about a sustainable service going forward.

We will continue to engage with midwives, other health professionals and the Opotiki community to determine how best to meet the needs of local women and their whanau.

“We advise expectant mothers to talk to their lead maternity carers about their individual birth plans and alternative options which include either birthing at Ko Matariki Maternity Unit at the Whakatane Hospital or in some cases delivery at home,” Mr Chandler said.

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz

james.sandbrook@opotikinews.co.nz