Turanga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha has been announced as one of 100 inspirational Kiwis who have made a difference in their corner of Aotearoa.
The group of 100 local heroes from Cape Reinga to Bluff have fed families in need, donated thousands of volunteer hours, or carried out exceptional work for the benefit of those around them.
The medallists are now in the running for the coveted 2023 Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero Award Te Pou Toko o te Tau.
Mr Ropiha is chief executive of Turanga Health and says the surprise nomination goes a long way to honouring the work of staff at the iwi health provider.
“This is an accolade for the hundreds of staff that have worked at Turanga Health since its inception in 1997, staff who work here now, and whānau and families who have put their faith in us over the years.”
A champion for his people and their health, Mr Ropiha, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, has been at the helm of Turanga Health for 25 years. He and his team worked hard during the pandemic to help the region get vaccinated. With a kaupapa Māori approach that included hosting mass vaccination events around the rohe and face-to-face kōrero, he was driven to provide opportunities for people to engage with the science about vaccines in ways that suited them.
Mr Ropiha was wrapping up a weekly Turanga Health board chair Pene Brown presented him with the Kiwibank Local Hero medal. “It was a surprise,” says Mr Ropiha. “I thought Pene was here to acknowledge staff birthdays!”
Mr Brown doesn’t know who nominated Mr Ropiha. He says the natural-born leader shies away from limelight, so it was important to him that the medal was presented in front of the full team.
“As well as his behind-the-scenes strong leadership, like all Turanga Health staff, Reweti worked hundreds of hours at community vaccination events,” says Pene. “He was there alongside everyone else through those busy hectic days of the pandemic, in hi-vis at the head of the car queue.”
Mr Brown says Mr Ropiha and Turanga Health has continued to lead the way in the region’s Covid-19 response, spearheading innovations such as community events that offer a range of vaccinations, emergency housing pods at local marae, and a health hub in Elgin.
Sharing his skills and knowledge across many organisations, Mr Ropiha is also involved with the Vanessa Lowndes Centre, Matai Trust, Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust, and the Sunrise Foundation.
The 2023 Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero Award Te Pou Toko o te Tau forms part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards. The list of 100 Local Heroes will be whittled down to 10 finalists in mid-December. The three other Tairāwhiti heroes nominated alongside Mr Ropiha are #Hear4U founder Krissy Mackintosh, Tokomaru Bay Civil Defence coordinator Lillian Te Hau Ward and Te Tairāwhiti arts festival director Tama Waipara.
Meanwhile, Mr Ropiha was recognised at the Gisborne District Council Civic Awards this month. The local awards acknowledge individuals or organisations involved in substantial community service that benefits the people of Tairāwhiti. Mr Ropiha was recognised alongside Alexia English, Amanda Mathers, Rawinia Parata and Jason King.
Turanga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha has thanked the Tairāwhiti community for putting its trust and confidence in local iwi health providers to vaccinate the public during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Whānau turned up and when they did, they brought their trust and confidence in us to help keep them safe and well. That was a privilege, and here at Turanga Health, we accepted the challenge.”
Mr Ropiha’s comments follow the release of Turanga Health’s annual report for the year ended 2022. It shows Turanga Health staff administered 18,187 vaccinations including boosters and tamariki doses in the 12 months to June 2022.
Mr Ropiha says the arrival of the Covid-19 Delta variant and then the Omicron strain, changed the way health organisations vaccinated almost overnight. In the midst of a nationwide health response, Turanga Health vaccinated the community at rotating rural and urban drive-through locations including schools, carparks, and streets. It was an all-staff approach as clinics relied on set-up and breakdown crews, vaccinators, administration staff, and manaaki support (hospitality) crews.
Despite the urgency, Turanga Health’s drive-through vaccination events always had a relaxed come-as-you-are fun whānau vibe. There was often a DJ on site, hot drinks, cold beverages, and snackpacks available for delivery to each vehicle. Everything was contactless apart from the vaccination itself.
“Sitting behind that fun front-of-house vibe we had to implement complex tech infrastructure that would work in places without electricity and wifi,” says Mr Ropiha. To help prevent spread of the disease in their own workplace Turanga Health staff were divided into two teams, each working seven-day rosters.
Mr Ropiha says the goal was to achieve high vaccination rates across the rohe. He says Turanga Health staff provided straightforward information and weren’t there to judge. “Our local faces in local spaces approach to vaccination meant we succeeded in reaching previously under-served communities and those with vaccine hesitancy concerns.”
In total, Turanga Health created 270 vaccination clinics across 79 community locations including 21 workplaces and 13 schools. In the busy days during the nationwide lockdown of August 2021, staff regularly vaccinated over 200 people at the three-hour vaccination events. On 16 October 2021 staff administered a record 321 vaccines at a Harry Barker Reserve vaccine drive-through event.
Local vaccine figures illustrate the community’s well-placed trust. In July 2021 just 11,230 of the total Tairāwhiti population including 3,799 Māori, had received their first dose. 12 months later by June 2022, 34,339 of the total Tairāwhiti population including 17,073 Māori, had received their first dose.
“We knew where to target, which streets, to set up in, and who we should work with. And in doing so, we earned the public’s trust and confidence.”
Mr Ropiha adds that for much of the past 12 months, staff working at Turanga Health had to balance their vaccination mahi alongside community PCR testing and RAT distribution. Other essential Turanga Health services including nursing, mental health support, and Well Child Tamariki Ora, also continued during this time.
“It has been an unpredictable and incredible past 12 months and so I sincerely acknowledge the achievements of Turanga Health staff, but also those of the Tairāwhiti community and beyond.”
Turanga Health Faces, Spaces, Voices: Annual Report July 2021-June 2022
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