Yesterday was the first meeting of the new HB District Health Board … seven elected members, plus appointees Barbara Arnott, Ngahiwi Tomoana, Denise Eaglesome (Wairoa Deputy Mayor) and Dan Druzianic (Hastings accountant).

What a breath of fresh air!

Reinstated Chairman Kevin Atkinson opened with a few comments regarding some of his priorities. At the top of the list was a pledge for more public discussion of key issues … and minimal public-excluded sessions. He also suggested that working committees of the Board should consider meeting out in the community. So un-Sir John, the previous Chair!

The Board’s public briefing papers included a compendium of all the potential conflicts of interest declared by Board members (all local body elected and appointed officials are required to file such declarations, which customarily disappear into the bowels of the councils), together with a member-by-member explanation of how these conflicts would be managed, if they arose. A ‘best practice’ for other Bay councils to emulate. [BayBuzz will ask them to!]

Apart from the usual progress reports, including good financial news that the DHB will run a surplus this year, the highlight of the meeting was a comprehensive and compelling presentation by Project Leader Hayley Anderson on work underway to improve the delivery of health services in Wairoa. Not only was the presentation robust … so was the Board discussion and questioning of it. Again, a style not practiced during the last regime.

The Wairoa plans include a re-build or refurbishing of Wairoa Hospital. Apart from enabling better patient care, this facilities upgrade is deemed essential to recruiting and retaining medical staff. Two approaches were outlined, one costing approximately $2.4 million; the other, with greater benefits, estimated at $5 million. Chairman Atkinson, supported by CEO Kevin Snee, proffered the suggestion that the Board signal its inclination then and there to support the more substantial redevelopment as better meeting the community’s needs. His rationale was that such a signal delivered now would help Ms Anderson secure local buy-in to the overall integrated health services scheme she is developing with the community.

Dr Snee had noted that in Wairoa DHB is trying to provide health service to 8,500 of the region’s most deprived residents, “but our service is 2, 3, 4 years from collapsing.” When the wisdom of raising public expectations in Wairoa now for a more substantial facilities upgrade was questioned by one of the Board members, Snee commented: “That’s exactly what we want to do. This is going to happen. It will not be another failed effort.” [Apparently previous efforts to improve service delivery in Wairoa have floundered, leaving the community understandably skeptical.]

What a refreshing discussion!

Evidence to other local bodies in the region that sensitive matters can be discussed — and even decided — in public. What a concept!

Tom Belford

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