For Māori by Māori during COVID-19 – Poutini Waiora

“Keeping people fed and warm during the coming cold months is a top priority right now. It’s covering off the basic needs. Extra kai for families along with wood and coal for their heating. This means they at least don’t have to worry about being too cold or hungry,” says Rehia McDonald. Rehia is a registered social worker and team leader for Poutini Waiora. They are a Maori Health and Social Service provider delivering holistic care to whānau across Te Tai O Poutini (West Coast). Their services include primary nursing care, holistic counseling services, tamariki ora, whānau ora navigators, and school attendance officers.

Delivering support during COVID-19

“Our service is primarily mobile with kaimahi visiting whānau in their homes but we’ve had to stop all that for now,” explains Rehia. “The first thing we had to do in Lockdown was a business continuity plan to ensure we could keep providing for our people. We are operating on rotational basis with a skeleton staff of kaimahi and enrolled nurses. We are also making regular phone calls with our whānau to check how everyone is doing. “We’ve got a speedy system for determining where food vouchers are needed. Our van drives up to a home and puts a form in the letterbox. If you need some vouchers, you sign the form and leave it back in the box. When the van comes back, the driver can leave the food vouchers in the letterbox there and then if the form’s been signed. “We have set up account with four pharmacies across Te Tai O Poutini to cover prescription support. This provides for those families not able to pay for these. We also pick up 1500hrs each day from the pharmacies prescriptions to be dropped off. “We have set up accounts with wood and coal merchants across Te Tai O Poutini to deliver wood and coal. We’re covering the overdue bills for heating especially for those families with people suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments.”

Importance of COVID-19 funding

Hui E! Community Aotearoa have been helping match pro-bono grant writers with community groups, including Poutini Waiora, during the COVID-19 Lockdown. We helped Poutini Waiora apply for a Ministry of Development COVID-19 grant. The extra grant money from the Government will definitely be a boost. “For many Māori in our region, they struggle to make their wages or benefit stretch, even on a good day. Now, with the kid’s home from school, it’s nice to be able to give them a good lunch. Kids can’t learn on an empty stomach,” says Rehia. “We’re also working with the West Coast Health Board to get flu shots for our kaumātua, hāpu wahine and vulnerable. We are having to purchase visors, face masks and hairnets for our whānau ora registered nurses. It is business as usual for the registered nurses. They have committed to ensuring vaccinations are given in a mana enhancing way under COVID-19.”

Post-lockdown concerns

Rehia is concerned about how confident people will be interacting and going out once the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted. “The general healthcare delivery model system depends on people accessing services by going to clinics and hospitals. This hasn’t been working for many Māori for multiple reasons. What if this access gets worse with the compounding fear and anxiety of catching COVID-19? “We are anticipating this with our people and so we are planning to increase our mobile service. Poutini Waiora moemoea (vision) is to have a doctor and registered nurse go out to the patients, in a fully equipped clinical Waka Hauora. “We have to take the approach, ‘If people don’t come to you, then you go to them’ otherwise we entrench these issues of equity and access.”

Delivering a Māori for Māori approach

“Our approach works because it’s by Māori for Māori. Its community-led problem solving, delivering local solutions.” Rehia believes this pandemic offers an opportunity to talk about the issues that affect Māori and the support Māori are legally eligible to receive. “I’m hopeful the DHBs and MSD will continue to listen to what’s needed. Māori organisations like Poutini Waiora believe whānau are fundamental to everything that we do.”