When 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, the Rongowhakaata/ Ngai Tamanuhiri tāne 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.”
He never dreamed that 22 years later he would be leading a company with a $5 million budget, employing 65 people, and enhancing the lives of over 3,000 whānau every year.
“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.”
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 within Rongowhakaata and Ngai Tamanuhiri and the connections with whānau.
“It was a simple upbringing, you were there for others and we all shared. We helped people we didn’t necessarily know, but on mum’s and dad’s orders. We followed their 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.”
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 very tentatively,” remembers Reweti. “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 the services to the whanau 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 only part of the jigsaw, but we saw the need for a place for pākeke to congregate and thrive in the space of wellbeing.”
The Kaumātua Programme is a monthly marae-based gathering for the elderly with a holistic health focus. Transport, activities, service presentations, service connections and socialisation are provided for the region’s precious taonga.
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 (Tūranganui PHO). This model was unique in that the owners were two independent practitioner associations and an iwi health provider.
Aware that the PHO needed a powerful chief executive, Reweti brought in the expertise of the region’s senior expert in primary health, Keriana Brooking, from Tairāwhiti District Health Board.
“That was a bold move!” remembers Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown, who along with Reweti has watched Ms Brooking’s rise in the health sector to become a Deputy Director-General at the Ministry of Health.
Nowadays Tūranga Health boasts a general practice in Te Karaka with 1520 registered patients, over 20 onsite workplace wellness programmes, 1 GP, 12 nurses working alongside whānau in their homes, dozens of community-based health wellness programmes, and 3000 people on its books.
Always one to play down his own involvement, Reweti is pleased that five fellow staff, many he interviewed himself, are being acknowledged for their 20 years of service to Tūranga Health. “This is a chance to celebrate them.”
Reweti wants to acknowledge the good deeds of the many who have contributed to Tūranga Health’s journey. “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 49-year-old 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.”
Health leaders on Reweti Ropiha
Tūranga Health chairman Pene Brown.
“Reweti has a style that suggests he operates by the seat of his pants, but in reality, he puts a lot of thought into projects.”
“He stays connected with the whānau and when he stands in front of kaumātua they can relate to him. But he’s always thinking of the bigger picture and often talks in global statements.”
Ministry of Health Deputy Director-General Keriana Brooking.
"Like his stature, the contribution that Reweti Ropiha has made to Tūranganui-a-Kiwa has been massive! All of my best achievements and memories of my work in Tairāwhiti have involved Reweti and I can't thank him enough for his never-ending support and wisdom. Every pēpi, tamariki, rangatahi, pakeke, kuia and kaumātua who have received support, care and aroha from Tūranga Health, do so on his watch – congratulations."
Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green.
Reweti has had an impact on health in Tairāwhiti far beyond his role in Tūranga Health. His knowledge, wisdom, way of working, and sheer enthusiasm has infected us all and caused the championing of so many improvements in health, especially for Māori.
This has led Tūranga Health to greater achievements for the whānau and to be a role model for the spread of whānau ora in practice in Tairāwhiti. We all owe a great deal to Reweti Ropiha.
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