New mental health crisis respite care center opens in Dunedin

Dunedin’s capacity for emergency and planned mental health respite care is set to increase through an expanded service contract between the Southern District Health Board (Southern DHB) and community service provider Pact.

A five-bed home will open in September, offering adults with acute mental distress 24-hour home support in a residential setting less than 10 minutes from Dunedin Hospital.

The well-established Pact-owned property will be furnished in a comfortable, spacious and warm environment and support, with an emphasis on privacy, dignity, well-being, comfort, security and easy access to a peaceful garden. Families, essential to the recovery of a service user, will also have space to see their loved ones in private or even spend the night on site if they wish.

The home will be run by Pact, which specializes in helping people recovering from mental illness through 24/7 supported accommodation, planned respite care and community support. Pact already runs a similar home in Lower Hutt.

Toni Gutschlag, executive director of mental health, addictions and developmental disabilities for DHB South, said the new partnership will provide people in crisis with professional community support led by clinics rather than hospitalization, allowing them to stay closer to home.

“Dunedin has always had a one-bed unit available for emergency respite care, so this capacity expansion fills a long-standing service gap.

“Having a dedicated team of trained mental health support workers and a larger facility with a comfortable, family-friendly environment will allow us to provide earlier intervention and more targeted care to people in the Dunedin area. We anticipate this will reduce hospital admissions and hope this will lead to a better experience for users and their whānau.

The new facility will increase the current capacity of 365 nights to 1,825 nights per year, freeing up hospital beds and staff. Hospital inpatient services will continue to be available for those who need them.

Pact Chief Executive Thomas Cardy says Pact is delighted to provide much-needed respite service to the community and that his team will welcome clients who are referred by the EPS (mental health emergency service provided by SDHB) or community mental health teams.

“As we already do in other areas, we will work closely with crisis/community teams and Southern DHB Inpatient Services to ensure that tangata whaiora – a person seeking health and wellbeing – gets the support she needs. The service will be staffed with a mix of highly trained clinicians and support workers who have knowledge and experience of working with people in mental health crisis.

Work is also underway to set up a crisis support service in the Queenstown Lakes District. More details on this will be released once available.

The Dunedin and Queenstown lake initiatives both respond to needs identified in the 2021 Time for Change – Te Hurihanga review. They are part of a broader program of mental health reforms underway to bring mental health and wellbeing care closer to home and make it easier for everyone to access.

Time for Change – Te Hurihanga is a focused year-long project led by DHB Southern to address health, equity, location, social and systemic issues and put people at the center of care.

This is part of the direction to transform Aotearoa’s mental health and addictions system over the next 10 years. New health and disability reforms recognize that mental well-being is influenced by factors such as income, housing and employment, requiring a whole-of-government approach. It aims to help people stay healthy and have access to help that works for them, when and where they need it.

More resources for the Time for Change – Te Hurihanga program, including project updates, frequently asked questions, who’s involved and opportunities to get involved, plus the full Time for Change – Te review Hurihanga, will be available from Wednesday, June 8 on

About Antoine L. Cassell

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