I recently attended the protest regarding the standard of food on a wet Friday afternoon outside of the Dunedin Hospital. I went because a lady from my Community Board area has been seriously ill in hospital and her family have been bringing in meals from home to help build up her strength. Her grandson plays rugby with my son so I’ve been hearing from the family about how her treatment and care has been going on the sidelines lately. To my surprise I saw her in a wheelchair wrapped in a blanket with her family at the protest. I couldn’t help but admire her for taking a stand despite the fact that she has been so dreadfully ill.
In an earlier post I wrote (The Community Compass) that one of the issues with the food problems at the hospital is that local people feel they have lost control of the decision-making process. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. However, In light of the removal of the SDHB Board by the current government this has become even more pronounced.
One of the biggest disappointments at Fridays protest was the absence of local City Councillors. This was not lost on the crowd who attended, especially when the Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt spoke. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. These impacts are also part of the governance and leadership role of the Council in its management of the city. Take for example the impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy. The importance of the hospital as a teaching facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally. Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels. Its time that the Council understood that and acted.
In my opinion, the food issue is a symptom of a much greater problem in healthcare, especially in the way that services are provided in regional centres like Dunedin. Healthcare services transcend political affiliations. All of us at some time in our lives will have whanau, friends and neighbours who will need treatment and care. This returns us back to the fact that this is an issue of how local people have lost the ability to manage the services they require in their own community.
The debate over the District Health Board’s proposal to use Auckland based food supply company Compass for hospital meals in Dunedin and Invercargill has caused significant anguish in the community. The proposal will see frozen meals only heated in Dunedin with the loss of about 20% of kitchen jobs run by the SDHB. The anguish the proposal has created in the community has centred around, food quality, loss of local supply, redundancies, and the 15 year contract period. While the SDHB has claimed that the proposal will provide $7 million of savings the community feels that those savings may not eventuate, and there is strong concern over the financial management of Compass.
What has become clear in the argument is the feeling that the community has lost control of the decision-making process and management of their own hospital resources, which will be controlled by a large multi-national company. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. At the recent Octagon protest many placards revealed “our hospital and “our kitchen” which shows just how strongly people identify with the resource in the city. The other point is the loss of jobs and supply contracts from local people, which has dismayed many, as region’s like Dunedin fight so hard to retain employment in their area.
Community’s and their citizens have very strong social and familial loyalties to where they come from and where they live. Those loyalties may embody other values including strength, commitment and positive parochial feelings of care or stewardship for the community and its institutions. Such characteristics should be maintained and nurtured to ensure a cohesive community that will care for its citizens and have citizens that care for one another. However, it seems that such values have become secondary to the financial gains that may accrue. As regional areas in New Zealand continue to struggle in the present climate, it’s all the more reason that we have faith in local people and local resources in our community.