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?”
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