TURANGA Health medical staff and kaiāwhina stranded behind closed roads west of Gisborne in June continued to look after unwell whānau during the state of emergency.
“On the ground decision-making is vital during these times and we had the right people in the right places to help whānau who were most unwell,” says the health organisation’s chief executive Reweti Ropiha.
After a period of intense rain a state of emergency was declared in Tairāwhiti on Thursday 22 June. Flooding, slips, and dropouts closed dozens of rural roads as well as State Highway 2 west out of Gisborne. Te Karaka whānau were evacuated, Whatatutu residents were cut off, and Otoko Hill sustained major damage.
A number of Turanga Health staff were trapped behind the damaged roads including primary care kaiwhakahaere Bobbie Cameron in Whatatutu, community coordinator Mary Fisher in Matawai, and Waikohu Health Centre nurse practitioner Kylie Morresey in Kanakanaia Rd. With support from other Turanga Health nurses and kaiāwhina they all continued to work.
Heeding the early severe weather warnings, Waikohu Health Centre nurse practitioner Kylie Morresey and nurse Vinessa Taylor cleared the next day’s patient list with phone calls. Then they stocked their trucks with mobile nursing equipment including medication, inhalers, dressings, and oxygen and headed to their respective homes to wait out the storm.
Once the rain hit, Whatatutu-based nurses Bobbie and Vinessa, and kaiāwhina Layton Noanoa and Leslie Puketapu, were part of an iwi welfare response hub based out of Mangatu Marae. The Turanga Health staff did door-to-door checks on Whatatutu locals. “We’d keep them up to date with the situation and see if they needed any support or medicine,” says Bobbie. Layton maintained a database with names of who had received support and fed the information to the civil defense team operating out of Te Karaka Area School.
Practice nurse Vinessa was particularly concerned with a potential loss of power and the impact that would have on patients who rely on dialysis and oxygen machines. “They are the sickest people out here, but I know them well because I work at the Health Centre. Turanga Health is really responsive. It’s great.”
Bobbie says the lessons learned from Cyclone Gabrielle in February, and a recent emergency planning exercise, meant Whatatutu was as prepared as it could be. “Everyone worked in really well.”
Kylie was trapped in Kanakanaia Rd. As a nurse practitioner with some of the same authorisations as a doctor, Kylie can prescribe medicine. As Bobbie and Vinessa assessed patients they could ring Kylie who could then prescribe medicine over the phone. “Living in the community and being a prescriber when roads are closed is a huge benefit,” says Kylie. “People were still being treated even though they were isolated.”
Further up broken State Highway 2, community coordinator Mary Fisher from Matawai, faced challenges opening a drop-in nurse clinic at Matawai Memorial Hall. Mary helped whānau who needed dressings and checkups and was a friendly face to anyone who was worried. But just getting to Matawai village was arduous. Mary’s husband used a tractor to punch through slips near her home. Then she had to walk one kilometre to a car she’d stashed further down the slushy road. “It’s just what we’ve got used to,” says Mary. Once out and about, Mary also visited vulnerable whānau in the area.
“The whole thing had an element of de ja vu about it,” admits Reweti. “We took all our learnings from the previous emergencies. I’m proud of how our rural staff seamlessly mobilised into action. It’s a vital reminder of the value of Turanga Health’s depth of professionalism and geographic spread.”
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