REWETI Ropiha has been recognised in the 2023 New Year’s Honours list becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to Māori health.
The 54-year-old was in his office at Turanga Health in Gisborne when he first learned the news in November 2022.
“At the time I thought the staff member was winding me up,” says Mr Ropiha, who kept the honour a secret until New Year’s Eve.
Mr Ropiha, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, says he’s overwhelmed to have received recognition and feels humbled and blessed to be able to share it with whānau and colleagues.
“It is a great honour especially as there are so many faces and people who have gone before helping to shape what we do for the community.”
Mr Ropiha has been recognised for his dedication to improving the health and wellbeing of Māori living in the region, particularly in his role as chief executive of Turanga Health. The honour comes on the back of a Gisborne District Council Civic Award and a Kiwibanki Local Hero medal for Mr Ropiha.
Mr Ropiha is a champion for his people and their health. He has been at the helm of the iwi health organisation for 25 years. He and his team worked hard during the Covid-19 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, Turanga Health staff were driven to provide opportunities for people to engage with the science about vaccines in ways that suited them.
Today’s public demand for Turanga Health’s services and its highly regarded position in the region is in sharp contrast to its humble beginnings.
When a 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, Mr Ropiha 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.”
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 by Rongowhakaata and Ngāi Tāmanuhiri values and connections with whānau.
“It was a simple upbringing; you were there for others and we shared everything. We helped people we didn’t necessarily know, and we followed our elders’ 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.”
The evolution of Turanga 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 tentatively,” remembers Mr Ropiha. “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 services to the whānau 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 part of the jigsaw, and saw the need for a place for pākeke to congregate and thrive.”
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. This model was unique in that the owners were independent practitioner associations and an iwi health provider.
Turanga Health today
Now, Tūranga Health boasts a general practice in Te Karaka with 1600 registered patients, over 20 onsite workplace wellness programmes, one GP, one nurse practitioner, one consulting primary care expert, 12 nurses, and an ever-growing group of vaccinator-trained kaiāwhina. It has 3,000 registered whānau on its books and community-wide acceptance after helping the region’s residents through the pandemic.
The company holds multiple Government and local contracts. It has moved into the mobile vaccination space and will soon increase its physical footprint into Elgin. For the past 10 years it has worked alongside the Otago University in numerous research projects.
“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. 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 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.”
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