WHILE many were panic-buying or checking on whanau in the hours before lockdown, Amanda Humphris was standing in a rural carpark administering a production line of 'flu jabs.
“It all felt a bit manic but a line of cars had turned up to meet us at Mangatu and it all went really smoothly,” says Amanda, a nurse at Turanga Health.
“Those three days we worked huge hours with vaccinations during the day and doing the paperwork at night but we had a goal and we went for it.
“Between us we covered all of Turanga Health's town area, as well as places from Manutuke and Muriwai to Patutahi, Te Karaka and Whatatutu. Our team in the office would make the arrangements and we'd meet people in carparks, outside their houses, on the sides of the roads . . . wherever we could.”
As part of Turanga Health's pre-Covid-19 Level 4 push, Amanda and her colleagues spent the three days before lockdown giving over 250 influenza vaccinations both to protect whanau, and to keep pressure off the health system.
It was the second part of a two-pronged pre-lockdown push and to come up with the first, chief executive Reweti Ropiha didn't have to look further than out his office window.
“The day before the alert levels were announced I just happened to glance up and saw (staffer) Norm Namana walking past carrying a bucket,” he says.
“That prompted the idea of getting a whole lot of buckets, filling them with things people needed at that time, and delivering them to whanau. And that's just what we did.”
The window for action was small. On Saturday, March 21 the Prime Minister announced the country's four-level pandemic alert system (and the news that we were already at alert Level 2) and urged anyone over the age of 70 or with health issues to stay at home. Two days later she said we were alert Level 3, and that by March 25 – the Wednesday -- the country would go to Level 4, full lockdown.
So while Reweti's plan might have sounded simple, getting those 1100 buckets out to whanau – particularly pakeke – required an operation of military scope and execution.
Getting the extra 'flu vaccinations had been tough enough: Turanga Health called on the goodwill of general practices around the region to boost its supplies. But getting their bucket-list of information and hygiene supplies – on a weekend, in the midst of a pandemic – was no picnic, either.
That task fell to project manager Dallas Poi, who had decided to fill the buckets with soap, disinfectant, wipes, eco bags to hold contaminated material, and information packs about Covid-19.
“I don’t know how she did it or where she got all the stuff from . . . it was amazing,” Reweti says. “But she did and, after working through the weekend, we were ready to start deliveries on Monday morning with one person driving the van, a couple in the back to jump out with the buckets, and a truck following behind with top-up supplies.
“The last deliveries were made at 9pm on Wednesday – three hours before lockdown – and just seeing the tears from whanau showed we had achieved our aim of keeping it connected and keeping it real with vulnerable whanau and iwi in Turanganui a Kiwa. These weren't just buckets of health supplies. They were a way of saying 'we care', 'we know the next four weeks are going to be tough and we are here for you'.”
Throughout the process communication was key and from the Saturday population health manager Dwayne “Tama” Tamatea had reinvented himself as a presenter to front on-line videos outlining Turanga Health's plan.
“We wanted to reassure whanau, to get the important messages out there, and I can't say enough about the awesome effort of our staff at Turanga Health,” says Tama. “Everybody just dug into the trenches and worked to get the job done.”
Post-lockdown, Turanga Health continued essential work in looking after those in need but Reweti says it was in the pre-Level 4 push that the team truly showed its passion.
And aside from his usual rock-solid commitment to whanau, he had another reason for wanting to react quickly to the approaching storm.
“I remember my father telling me about his own father's experience with the 1918 Spanish 'flu, when his family of 16 was hit so hard their number was reduced to just six. That was not an experience I lived through, but I will never forget what he told me.
“So we knew we had to act and act fast and the team really stepped up to achieve that . . . it will be a long journey but they had the desire and intent to beat this thing.
“And whanau at our Vanessa Lowndes Centre (for those with physical and/or mental health issues) even did their bit, working that pre-lockdown weekend to get more than 250 parcels of meat and vegetables out to any whanau that might have needed it.”
Reweti says that, when the Turanga Health strategy was decided on, he told staff that they were in for a marathon but were in a position to front-foot it.
“They were all in. No one talked about their own concerns, no one mentioned timesheets. There was a sense of pride about helping people in our community and that was the only motivation they needed. And when they get time to reflect on all this effort they'll realise they were part of a special team that helped the fight against a global threat.”
Email us if you want to receive our media releases.