Nine contestants from Turanga Health last month took on the annual national Kaumatua Olympics in Hamilton — and won.
Turanga Health’s first-ever competing team of Henare Stirling, Pera Smiler, Francis Galloway, Mattie Ahu, Tomairangi Duncan, Louise Kemp, Mereana Andrews, Barbara Allison and Rawiri Haapu were named the national champions of the 15-year-old, semi-annual event.
“It’s because we cheated!” co-captain Francis (77) jokingly said.
What he was admitting to, however, was that with the team’s average age being a whisker under 70, they were one of the younger teams at the Olympics.
That’s because Turanga representatives had to be sure they were all well enough to make the trip to Hamilton but once they were deemed fit to attend, not one turned down the opportunity to take part.
“That’s what you do when someone asks you to do something,” Barbara, 69, said.
“You just say “yes” and do what you can.”
The Kaumatua Olympics involves activities like line-dancing, seated volleyball, kumara toss, wheelchair relays and crowd favourite Kumba, which is Zumba modified for kaumatua.
Pera, 70, said he was keen to give anything a go.
“To be honest, I had no idea what we were in for but I loved the whole experience, it was magic,” he said.
But team bus driver, Rawiri (66) — a three-year veteran of the Kaumatua Programme — said he absolutely went there to win, “we just happened to have a great experience at the same time”.
Established 21 years ago, Turanga Health’s Kaumatua Programme continues to serve about 300 koroua and kuia in helping them maintain health, independence and community connections through fortnightly gatherings that are usually held at marae.
Henare (67) said he’d never been one to really socialise, which is what prompted him to join the programme.
“Going away to compete was challenging but totally worth it, we had a whole lot of laughs.”
Mattie, (72), was also grateful for the opportunity to compete.
“Turanga Health always shows us the greatest of care . . . but who’d have thought we could have such an amazing experience”.
And 75-year-old Toimairangi said she wouldn’t have missed the event for the world, “We were all there as one, a big whanau”.
After a day of games and events where the team was pitted against nearly 300 other competitors, they brought home the carved wooden trophy.
And Turanga Health kaiawhina Louise Kemp (68), also a team member, said they were well cared for while they were away.
“There was a beautiful bridge between rangatahi and kaumatua,” she said.
“It’s like when your own mokopuna do well and make you proud,” co-captain Mereana Andrews added, about the Rototuna High School students who hosted this year’s Olympics. “From preparing the food to organising the events . . . they were incredible.”
Back in Gisborne, the victors were guests of honour at a presentation event where more than 150 pakeke were at Lawson Field Theatre in support.
As a bonus, there was a screening of historic footage – dating as far back as 1919 – from the New Zealand Film Archive.
“This is not the first time we’ve done this and it really means a lot,” Kaumatua Programme co-ordinator Kay
“For some of our whanau the footage brings back memories, for others it’s a chance to see images they have never seen before.”
Team Turanga Health say they are looking forward to defending their trophy at next year’s Kaumatua Olympics.
“It would be nice to give some of our other whanau a chance to compete,” Francis said, “but if they call us, we will come running!”
Loiuse Kemp might join the pakeke in their exercise sessions but she's not ready for the kaumātua programme yet!
The 69-year-old has put in 21 years of service as a Tūranga Health kaiāwhina and says she’s got more to give.
“It’s been a long time, but I've been able to do wonderful, rewarding work,” she says. “I love my job to this very day.”
When sourcing kaiāwhina (community health workers) Tūranga Health always looks for a good fit and in 1998, when they were looking for someone to work with pakeke (elders), they knew they’d found it in Louise.
Since then, she’s been “an absolute rock”, says chief executive Reweti Ropiha.
“She’s been in so many households around the district and seen so many dynamic and changing whānau situations, like being there as people have passed,” he says. “She has a way about her that draws out a high level of confidence and trust. She is the one person they ask for.”
Raised by her grandmother at her Muriwai home, as a young woman Louise (Ngai Tāmanuhiri) sought the bright lights of big-city Auckland but returned in the 1980s.
Throughout the 1990s she cared for her elderly father so by the time he passed away early in 1998, she was well attuned to the needs of older whānau.
“Back then the Kaumātua Programme was small – nothing like the 150 older whānau we work with today – with only a few people going out to the marae for the get-togethers,” she says.
“My dad couldn't get around much so having a chance to mix with other kaumātua was a really important outing for him, and that's what got me interested in the work.”
As well as working at group events for pakeke, Louise joins Tūranga Health nurses in visiting them at home, working through any issues they might have and helping them access the services they need.
“Especially back in the early days, many didn't understand the health issues and systems they were dealing with so when we explain in layman's terms what is happening, they can be confident they know what it means to them.”
Tūranga Health chair Pene Brown says when Louise started as a kaiāwhina, their contribution to the health sector was sometimes not fully appreciated.
“But we knew what they could bring and in Louise's case we embraced her for the person she was, and melded the job around her. She brought to us some beautiful skills that enabled us to help her grow as a kaiāwhina, and to have the success she has had with our pakeke.”
It’s been 22 years since Tūranga Health started with modest beginnings and an even more modest bank balance, and Billy Babbington was there right from the beginning.
As a respected rugby league stalwart who had worked in shearing sheds and on the freezing works floor, he was the perfect person to come on board to work in a key area of need . . . men's health.
When he joined Tūranga Health back in 1997, Billy had already spent time working at a residential home for people with physical, intellectual and mental health disabilities.
And while he may come across as a bit of a hard man, the father, grandfather and great-grandfather says his ultimate goal is to help those who need it most.
“Billy's attributes were obvious to us very early on in the piece,” says Tūranga Health chief executive Reweti Rophia. “He is a man that makes things happen behind the scenes, at the back of the marae.”
When it came time for a change, Billy's past experience in the workforce again came to the fore – he'd already seen his fair share of mental health issues – so for the last eight years he has been working with the mental health and addiction services team, upskilling with a Certificate and Diploma in Mental Health to help fulfil the role.
“Back in the day you might have known someone had problems but nothing was really done about it, then one day they might just not come back to work,” he says.
“Now we know better. We know that with the right care and support we can help whānau towards being well and that's why we do what we do. It's about making a difference.”
And according to Tūranga Health kaumatua John Pomana, that's just what Billy (Ngati Porou) does.
“Some of our whānau need a special kind of support and that is what Billy offers,” says John. “With all whānau, Billy cares for them while ensuring their rights around self-determination are protected.”
Tūranga Health chair Pene Brown, too, highly values what Billy Babbington brings to the team.
“He has really found his niche in supporting whānau with mental health challenges.” Pene Brown says.
“He's sympathetic and non-judgemental, and has an innate ability to earn the trust of whānau he is looking after, often during times that can be very emotional.”
Tūranga Health’s clinical manager Shirley Keown, can’t believe babies she cared for as a Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse are now having babies themselves.
“Gosh, is it that long? I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not?”.
This month Shirley, along with five colleagues, celebrates 20 years of service with Tūranga Health.
Shirley’s presence on the team is definitely a good thing, according to Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown.
“We’ve benefited from her clinical authority and expertise in quality health practice. She’s been a leading light right from the start.”
Shirley joined Tūranga Health in 1999 to set up its Well Child Tamariki Ora programme with colleague Sonya Smith. Tūranga Health’s Well Child service now looks after nearly half of the 700 babies born in Gisborne every year.
Shirley didn’t plan on being a nurse. She entered the profession after a fortuitous cooking course placement in Hutt Hospital’s kitchen. Drawn more to caring than cooking she switched careers.
She worked at hospitals in Wellington, Auckland and Gisborne. Once at Tūranga Health she discovered a talent for project management.
In 2007 Shirley led the organisation to achieve its first accreditation. Accreditation is an intense process of auditing that sees Shirley – and the rest of the team – come under the microscope.
Shirley says that initial accreditation and the ones that followed strengthened the organisation and proved it to be a high-quality health provider.
“And for me it’s about what people are entitled to in health care. It doesn’t matter who or where they are - they should get the best service available.”
Shirley has been responsible for helping deliver other programmes at Tūranga Health including the disease state management service now called whānau ora community nursing.
These days she’s more likely to be facing a room of politicians than patients as she pulls together applications for projects and funding with the senior management team.
Behind the scenes Shirley has earned a degree in health science, a post-graduate diploma in disease state management, and a masters in health science. Right now, she’s working towards her PhD at University of Otago’s pharmacy school.
She’s an active member of the community, completed plenty of tough physical events, and with husband David has three children, and two mokopuna.
Looking back over the past 20 years Shirley is very proud of Tūranga Health’s achievements and cites the extensive relationships with the Health Safety and Quality Commission, primary industry, tertiary education facilities, and primary care organisations as examples of the high regard the organisation is now held in.
She has a typically low-key response to her own personal achievements. “I think it’s good to extend yourself and have the courage to give things a go. Do you really want to get to the end of your life and wish you had tried more things?”
A big man with a big heart and a massive legacy; Whakahawera Rere Kite Pakanga Kerr's more than two decades of service have made him a cherished member of the Tūranga Health team.
Known as Libby – after his uncle was wounded in Libya on the day of his birth in 1941 – he’s been with Tūranga Health from its early days and chief executive Reweti Ropiha says he made his mark right from the start.
“Libby was first at Tūranga Health as someone who could work with older males,” says Reweti, who in 1999 convinced Libby to be kaumātua for the fledgling health organisation. “He was someone they could walk their health journey alongside, someone who could be a confidant and give tāne confidence.”
Libby (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Tamanuhiri, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Tūhoe) spent much of his working life at the freezing works but by the time he joined Tūranga Health, he’d already spent a dozen years forming views on shortcomings in the health system.
In 1985 he’d become a security guard at New Zealand's newest health facility, Gisborne Hospital, where he saw things both good and bad.
On the “good” side, he enjoyed spending time in Ward 11, talking and interacting with mental health patients. On the “bad”, he often felt tangata whaiora were not treated with the care and consideration they deserved.
With that as his driving force, Libby's redundancy some years later was turned into a positive when he used his experiences to work with the Health and Disability Commission.
Then he joined Tūranga Health where, as well as serving as kaumātua, he spent six years overseeing the Vanessa Lowndes Centre for whānau with physical and/or mental health issues.
And throughout the years he’s been a passionate family man . . . he and his wife of more than 50 years, Mereaira, have eight children, 12 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
During that time Libby has had his own health problems but Tūranga Health chair Pene Brown says that has not stopped him from making a huge contribution to his community. “His knowledge of people and who their families are, is immense. This aspect is of enormous help to all his Tūranga Health colleagues and especially, Reweti.”
Reweti says Libby opened doors “and gave confidence back to whānau who’d previously had a bad experience in health.”
“And he has always been very comfortable in any setting . . . when then-Prime Minister Helen Clark came here once, Libby was the only person she knew.”
When 28-year-old Reweti Ropiha bounded into Tūranga Health in 1997 he took over a shy fledging company with an opening cash balance of $300 and fewer than 10 clients.
Recently returned from four years of overseas travel, and feeling enlightened, the Rongowhakaata/ Ngai Tamanuhiri tāne was ready to apply himself to new challenges.
“I had a sense that there was an opportunity there, not just for myself, but for the rohe.”
He never dreamed that 22 years later he would be leading a company with a $5 million budget, employing 65 people, and enhancing the lives of over 3,000 whānau every year.
“That’s been half of the attraction of this company, it doesn’t stand still. We’re always looking for new opportunities. I can tell you this is not a space of boredom.”
Reweti grew up in Manutuke, a whāngai son of Wikitoria and Ratu Ropiha. He went to Manutuke School, Lytton High School, and has completed a double degree in politics and business and a Master of Business Administration through Waikato University.
He credits his parents with teaching him about the importance of living within Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri and the connections with whānau.
“It was a simple upbringing, you were there for others and we all shared. We helped people we didn’t necessarily know, but on mum’s and dad’s orders. We followed their approach to common sense. I craved that when I was overseas, and I wanted to help participate in, and restore that, when I came back to Gisborne and started at Tūranga Health.”
Tūranga Health was created at a time of colossal change in the health sector - when community level organisations were playing a greater role in primary health care delivery.
Across the country Māori health providers were flourishing. In Gisborne, Te Runanga o Tūranganui-a-Kiwa created Tūranga Health as its health arm. It was a new kid on the block and very much in the shadow of neighbouring Māori health provider Ngati Porou Hauora.
"“Everything was evolving and we moved very tentatively,” remembers Reweti. “The space was shifting from centralised power bases, to one of using other approaches in the delivery of health services.”
“Tūranga Health saw this as an opportunity not to replicate what was existing, but to embrace an approach of wellbeing that would include “kanohi ki te kanohi”, taking the services to the whanau in whatever setting and introducing a wider holistic lens.”
In 1998 Reweti and his small team took the cash-strapped Vanessa Lowndes Centre, where Reweti had once worked, under its wing. By now Tūranga Health had 150 people on its books.
Then it launched the extraordinarily successful Kaumātua Programme.
“Our approach for health service delivery for older people was about keeping whānau in their home for as long as possible. We knew we were only part of the jigsaw, but we saw the need for a place for pākeke to congregate and thrive in the space of wellbeing.”
The Kaumātua Programme is a monthly marae-based gathering for the elderly with a holistic health focus. Transport, activities, service presentations, service connections and socialisation are provided for the region’s precious taonga.
Over the next four years Reweti oversaw Tūranga Health develop its unique approach and style of operating.
In 2002 Tūranga Health took the first in a series of steps that would see it become the large-scale proficient business it is today. It teamed up with two general practice associations (Pinnacle and First Health) to form Tūranganui Primary Health Organisation (Tūranganui PHO). This model was unique in that the owners were two independent practitioner associations and an iwi health provider.
Aware that the PHO needed a powerful chief executive, Reweti brought in the expertise of the region’s senior expert in primary health, Keriana Brooking, from Tairāwhiti District Health Board.
“That was a bold move!” remembers Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown, who along with Reweti has watched Ms Brooking’s rise in the health sector to become a Deputy Director-General at the Ministry of Health.
Nowadays Tūranga Health boasts a general practice in Te Karaka with 1520 registered patients, over 20 onsite workplace wellness programmes, 1 GP, 12 nurses working alongside whānau in their homes, dozens of community-based health wellness programmes, and 3000 people on its books.
Always one to play down his own involvement, Reweti is pleased that five fellow staff, many he interviewed himself, are being acknowledged for their 20 years of service to Tūranga Health. “This is a chance to celebrate them.”
Reweti wants to acknowledge the good deeds of the many who have contributed to Tūranga Health’s journey. “There have been countless efforts and contributions - not just my own. We can all stand proud of Tūranga Health.”
When asked about the future of Tūranga Health, the 49-year-old father of three boys, says the windscreen is bigger than the rear vision mirror.
“More than ever Tūranga Health continues to unlock responsive approaches to whānau demand, whereby staff can continue to provide real time care in the communities and homes of whānau.”
Health leaders on Reweti Ropiha
Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown.
“Reweti has a style that suggests he operates by the seat of his pants, but in reality, he puts a lot of thought into projects.”
“He stays connected with the whānau and when he stands in front of kaumātua they can relate to him. But he’s always thinking of the bigger picture and often talks in global statements.”
Ministry of Health Deputy Director-General Keriana Brooking.
"Like his stature, the contribution that Reweti Ropiha has made to Tūranganui-a-Kiwa has been massive! All of my best achievements and memories of my work in Tairāwhiti have involved Reweti and I can't thank him enough for his never-ending support and wisdom. Every pēpi, tamariki, rangatahi, pakeke, kuia and kaumātua who have received support, care and aroha from Tūranga Health, do so on his watch – congratulations."
Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green.
Reweti has had an impact on health in Tairāwhiti far beyond his role in Tūranga Health. His knowledge, wisdom, way of working, and sheer enthusiasm has infected us all and caused the championing of so many improvements in health, especially for Māori.
This has led Tūranga Health to greater achievements for the whānau and to be a role model for the spread of whānau ora in practice in Tairāwhiti. We all owe a great deal to Reweti Ropiha.
A life’s interest in numbers has seen Tūranga Health’s corporate services manager Lisa Tamatea clock up over 20 years with the Māori health provider.
“I do sometimes wonder if this my last financial report but at Tūranga Health there’s always something new on, something exciting, and I’m drawn in again.”
Lisa has always loved number crunching. From her childhood days playing “shops” in Matawai to overseeing Tūranga Health’s $5 million budget, Lisa gets enormous satisfaction from accounting analysis and financial management.
Her background is in book keeping. She was an accounts clerk In the Royal New Zealand Airforce and started a similar job for the Vanessa Lowndes Centre in 1997.
Not long after, the centre was taken under the wing of Tūranga Health which was slowly building in size and scope under the guidance of Reweti Ropiha.
Reweti and Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown saw potential in Lisa and encouraged her to do tertiary study. After a lot of hard work and lack of sleep Lisa has since earned a diploma in business management, a degree in business with majors in accounting and management, and raised two children with husband Dwayne Tamatea.
Pene has regular meetings with Lisa and has always admired her skills. “Her analytical ability combined with her interpersonal skills stand out…and she’s a really good person as well.”
Outside of work Lisa often throws herself into demanding physical challenges. As well as multi-day running and cycling relay events she’s completed the Oxfam Trail 100km walk and the Spirited Women adventure race.
“Tūranga Health has a long history of walking the talk when it comes to physical fitness,” explains Lisa, who mostly does the events with colleagues.
She and Shirley Keown (who’s also knocked up 20 years at Tūranga Health) have been to some dark places during long arduous physical challenges, but it’s been worth it, she says.
“It’s made us stronger and actually, it’s part of what I love about Tūranga Health. We’re given space to grow whether it’s in the events we do or in our professional development.”
“I’m really proud of where I work. When the company was young I don’t think we used to celebrate that enough but now, Tūranga Health is an organisation the district can be very proud of.”
TAWHITI hasn't had one for a year; it's been seven years since Juanita got covered; and Solomone has never had one. But now all three – and many of their colleagues – are vaccinated against influenza.
That's thanks to a Tū Mahi Workplace Wellness partnership between Tūranga Health and employers like Gisborne's Riverland Fruit Company.
As part of their Tū Mahi programme, Tūranga Health nurses arrive at workplaces all over the district and offer flu vaccinations.
Their visit to Riverland, located on the outskirts of Gisborne, saw a crew of just over 20 permanent staff and 20 casuals keen to board the Pikiteora mobile clinic.
“There is absolutely no pressure and it is totally up to them,” says Tūranga Health kaiāwhina, Hinehou Smiler. “We're finding most whānau are keen to protect themselves and those around them as we move into the colder winter months.”
Riverland worker Solomone Paongo had never been vaccinated against the flu but when his employer said Tūranga Health would be offering them as part of their workplace programme, he was one of the first to step up.
“I've worked here for seven years and if it wasn't offered on-site I don't know if I would have had the time to get it done,” says the senior orchard worker. “It's a good way to help me stay healthy and also to protect my wife and two children (eight-year-old and 10-month-old).”
Juanita Taute also received the shot to protect her from getting unwell. “I haven't had the vaccine since I was at intermediate school so getting it at work was pretty great,” she says. “I live with my mum and neither of us want to get sick.”
Growing up with his grandparents in the Manawatu, Tawhiri Brandon-Davies used to get an annual flu vaccine but hasn't had one since he moved to Gisborne.
“I was always told it was important when I was with Nan and Pop but I missed out last year,” says the 19-year-old orchard worker. “It's really great to be back on board by having it at work . . . it feels good to be covered.”
Last year the primary health organisation gave more than 350 flu vaccinations in workplaces and Tūranga Health’s Dallas Poi says protecting even more whānau through newly signed-up employers like Riverland is a great result.
“Keeping on top of a dangerous infectious disease like influenza is a constant challenge as people move among their workmates, their whānau, and the general community,” she says.
“One person can have a lot of contacts throughout the course of a day and this is one way of keeping them all safe.”
Riverland’s human resources manager Carl Hamlin says not only does the Tū Mahi Workplace Wellness programme, including the flu vaccine, encourage healthy lifestyles for his employees, but it also shows the family company’s commitment to offering good support.
“It’s good business in that it keeps workers in work where otherwise they may be ill with the flu,” he says.
“These Tū Mahi Workplace services are also a vehicle for us, as an employer, to show our workers they are valued.
“We’ve dealt with Tūranga Health before and think they do a wonderful job.”
A HOME insulation scheme that appears “too good to be true” is helping Tūranga Health whanau stay warm and that's a big plus for those managing chronic illnesses, says Healthy Homes kaiāwhina Memory Taylor.
Under the government scheme, $142.5 million has been allocated nationally over four years to fund grants covering two-thirds of the cost of ceiling and underfloor insulation.
But Gisborne has gone one better . . . Eastland Community Trust (ECT) has chipped in $1.6 million over that period to offer 100 percent funding to homeowners in the Gisborne/Tairāwhiti region.
Tūranga Health is serving as a vital link in getting that offer to the community.
“It's an opportunity many of our whānau think is too good to be true so they can be hesitant in taking it up,” says Tūranga Health chief executive Reweti Rophia.
“So we knew we'd need a real mover and shaker in the community who whānau could trust to take them through the process, and that's where Memory comes in.”
To qualify for the 100 percent funding, applicants must own their own home (built before 2008). They also need to have a Community Services or SuperGold card; or be living in a lower-income area; or be referred by a Healthy Homes provider like Tūranga Health.
“And that's it,” says Memory, who has already referred hundreds of homeowners for the scheme and, if required, is on call to help them through the process.
“We know that living in a warm home is much healthier for everyone, and especially for those managing chronic illnesses so this is something we can do to really make a difference.”
A cancer survivor herself, Memory knows how important a healthy home is to vulnerable whānau.
“If you are in a situation where you are sitting around a lot you feel the cold a lot more than if you are active.”
She cites the example of one member of Tūranga Health's Pasifika whānau, who has already accessed the scheme to top-and-tail his home in warmth-holding insulation.
“As well as managing diabetes himself, his daughter and moko were living with him so it was important they have a warm home,” she says.
“We were able to help them through the process of applying and having the home inspected and the insulation installed, and now they are all feeling the benefits.”
Reweti says it's a great way to ensure whānau are getting good results for the work they put into fostering a healthy lifestyle.
“It's frustrating to see whānau come to us for help in managing their conditions, getting great support around their health, diet and exercise, then going home to cold, drafty houses,” he says.
“That's just not going to work for them and that's why we have whole-heartedly embraced the Warmer Kiwi Homes scheme.”
Homeowners will be better off financially, too: It is estimated that an $1800 home insulation project could save that household up to $2857 each year in energy costs.
And Reweti says there's more good news to come. Once a house is adequately-insulated the homeowner can then apply for funding for a heating appliance (heat pump, or pellet or wood burner) for the main area of their home. Details of that part of the scheme will be announced soon.
“Many of our whānau live rurally in older properties that can no longer be considered to be warm, healthy homes,” he says.
“Through this scheme we can help them with that, and at the same time we're supporting them through our lifestyle programmes so they be the healthiest they can be.”
“IF you step up, we'll step up,” Turanga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha told mental health and addiction services whanau, then he put his money where his mouth is.
The result is a co-op whereby those whanau who want to each put in 50 cents a week. At the end of six weeks, the cash is tallied, Turanga Health matches the sum, and every contributor gets something special.
What's more, they get input into what that “something special” might be.
“The idea is for them to get something useful, something they value, that they might not otherwise be able to afford,” says mental health and addiction services kaumatua John Pomana.
“Like one time we got some meat and, together with vegetables from our community garden, they got lots of kai for three bucks. Another time they all got a nice new continental blanket to take home, because that's what they told us they needed.”
The co-op idea is not entirely new at Turanga Health (the Vanessa Lowndes Centre whanau have already used it to chip in for things like new sports shoes), but it is for those using mental health services.
“We have lots of ways to show we care but this is another thing again,” says John. “This way, whanau are contributing – even a little bit – and that helps bring a real sense of pride and ownership.”
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