Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Whanau Ora: Tainui seeks investors to help build $20m centre

The Government's flagship welfare policy for Maori, Whanau Ora - worth $40 million this year - is designed to lift families out of poverty and dysfunction, but it has been criticised as a waste of money and an opportunity for some to rort the system. In a four-part investigation, Simon Collins speaks to those at Whanau Ora's frontline.

Parekawhia McLean wants to see a new model of care. Photo / Christine Cornege
Parekawhia McLean wants to see a new model of care. Photo / Christine Cornege

Waikato's powerful Tainui tribe is looking for private investors to help build a $20 million-plus centre to lift poor South Auckland families out of poverty.

The new regional Whanau Ora centre in Browns Rd, next to the Manukau super-clinic, will bring together services to help families improve their health, relationships, parenting, education, housing, budgeting and employment.

The Counties Manukau District Health Board, which is partnering with Tainui in the project, is also considering setting up a birthing unit in the building for mothers who don't need full hospital care.

Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean said she hoped the new centre, and a similar one planned for the Tainui development at The Base outside Hamilton, would showcase a new model of care driven by each family's goals.

"We are coming up against the clinicians who will treat the conditions," she said.

"We are saying to them, 'We want you to take a broader view, saying this person may have asthma because their house is cold, they smoke, and they don't have the transport to get to their doctor and can't afford it'."

District health board primary care director Martin Hefford said the Manukau centre would serve the whole community, not just Maori.

"If GPs see patients and they know that this respiratory problem is exacerbated by poor housing or diet, [it will help] if they have someone to refer that person to get better housing, or to get all their entitlements, whatever it might be, on a whole-family basis," he said.

The board was unlikely to put capital into it but would fund services such as primary healthcare, Healthy Housing, drug and alcohol services, dietitians and maternity services.

"If you are trying to help families, particularly high-need families, then getting in at the time of pregnancy, in terms of the lead maternity carer and Well Child services, is a really pivotal time."

Mr Hefford said a business case for the project would go to the board in October and then to Health Minister Tony Ryall. "I would hope we will start next year."

Ms McLean said the business case would also go to the Tainui parliament Te Arataura and then to potential investment partners.

"It will be a PPP [public-private partnership] model," she said. "We have already started sounding out possible investors."

She said the tribe also had resource consent for a centre at The Base, but had not received the same level of engagement from the Waikato District Health Board as it had in Manukau.

Waikato board spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill said the board was waiting to hear back from Tainui.

"Three years ago we seconded a project manager to assist Tainui with a business case for The Base.

"We presented to a Tainui Group Holdings hui that was looking at supporting The Base option," she said. "We heard nothing more formally as a board."

The Waikato-Tainui Whanau Ora consortium's eight agencies - Raukura Hauora o Tainui, Raukura Waikato Social Services, Te Hauora o Ngati Haua, Waahi Whanui Trust, Nga Miro Health Centre and three South Auckland training agencies, Ideal Success, Te Kotahitanga and the Solomon Group - are committed to merge within three years.

WHAT IS WHANAU ORA?

Whanau Ora (Well Families) is a Government welfare policy initiated by the Maori Party. It is open for everyone but its focus is on Maori families.

HOW IT WORKS

Social agencies work with whanau to help identify and improve problem issues such as poor housing, health, education and legal problems. They also ask the family to plan a future which moves them from state dependency to become financially independent and healthy participants in their community.

It is funded in two parts:
* $33.2m this year for agencies to form consortiums to work together with whanau to improve all elements of their wellbeing.

* $6.4m this year directly for whanau to form their own plans to improve their wellbeing.

THE SERIES

We have travelled to four of the areas where the services are most in demand.

Monday: Tai Tokerau (Northland)
* Urgent review follows abuse of scheme
* Disabled uncle has new hope after 14 years on benefit
* Doors open to decent housing and a better lifestyle
* More cash the key to better lives, says CEO
Today: Waikato-Tainui
Wednesday: Te Arawa (Rotorua)
Thursday: Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)

NEED MORE INFO?

Email: Whanau Ora
Visit: Te Puni Kokiri

- NZ Herald

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