Former social worker, now chief executive Arihia Bennett, says some whānau thought it was their fault they got seriously ill, when it was the system that let them down.
Arihia Bennett is the kaihautu (general manager) of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
OPINION: After 20 years of trying to make a broken system work, the government scrapped the country’s 20 district health boards, bringing in the Māori Health Authority and Health NZ. It’s part of a major shake-up to the healthcare system, with the aim of improving the health and well-being of all.
Although my title says Executive Director, I am a social worker at heart who grew up putting others first. My goal has always been to improve the health and well-being of Maori, so this major improvement in the health and disability sector touches me. Whānau rangatiratanga and community values have always been part of who I am. My mother was included in Tamariki Ora (children’s vaccination) and the Māori Women’s Welfare League, which are the champions of Maori health.
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With the creation of the Māori Health Authority and the Iwi-Māori Partnership Boards, the iwi katoa are finally empowered to assert our rangatiratanga to improve the health and well-being of Māori whānau throughout Aotearoa. This is a fabulous one-time opportunity to directly influence structural changes to the health system, as well as make improvements to ensure equity in flax roots and provide much-needed support to whānau in need. . This was missing during the recent Covid rollout, where Maori health officials were forced to continuously challenge the health system to address these inequities.
We named our council Ngāi Tahu Te Tauraki, which reflects the Crown’s broken promise to provide Ngāi Tahu whānau with schools and hospitals in partial payment for our whenua (land) in the mid-1800s. This breach of good faith has seen subsequent generations form a deep distrust of our healthcare system, which has never fully faded. It is our hope that Te Tauraki will finally give effect to the promises made between our tīpuna (ancestors) and the Crown – “Kia maiea te kupu tauraki” – To keep the promise.
The old system was demoralizing and broken, with overworked GPs often reserved and māuiui (sick) whānau turned away. This has failed for our Maori and Pasifika communities who now face reduced life expectancies and other concerning health issues such as a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Health Minister Andrew Little and Associate Minister of Health (Maori Health) Peeni Henare have officially launched two new health entities at AUT in Manukau, South Auckland.
For this new approach to be truly successful, our doctors and nurses need the time and resources to diagnose and treat serious illnesses quickly, so they can save lives. Let’s integrate te ao Māori into this new way of working and ensure whānau have easy access to the right services at the right time.
Our whānau face a range of barriers that prevent them from seeking care, including distrust of the old healthcare system that was never designed to meet their needs. I know some whānau thought it was their fault that they got seriously ill, but it was the system that let them down.
One of our whānau members in her 60s knows these challenges all too well. Isolated alone in her rural home during a Covid-19 lockdown, she felt unwell. Feeling like a burden, she sat in a waiting room at the nearest hospital for four hours, only to be told she would have to come back and repeat the process in a few days once her results were available. would be known – a frightening prospect.
Sent back to her wharf, she continues to worry about her health. After three follow-up visits, she was told her medication needed to be changed. His experience was cold and clinical without manaakitanga.
Our persistently underfunded Kaupapa Maori health providers have taken a different approach to the status quo, placing whānau and manaakitanga at the center of everything they do.
This involves building long-term, trusting relationships and bundling services around whānau in an environment where they can relax without fear of being judged. All New Zealanders deserve this treatment, and these health reforms are our chance to seize that.
Success will see our rangatahi grow up with a desire to become the next generation of specialists within the same healthcare system that their kaumātua (elders) once shunned. Caring for their whanau with a solid understanding of te ao Māori, with training to provide the best medical advice. The inequalities of the past will be no more.
My wero (challenge) for the communities is to accept this change and take advantage of the opportunities that health reform offers. It will take real courage, resilience and determination. We have a responsibility to act now for ourselves and our children after us.