Buller social services pushed to breaking point

By -
The Reefton Medical Centre said its patient roll had fallen to under 1600 for the first time ever, but this had been offset by increasingly complex needs. Photo / File
The Reefton Medical Centre said its patient roll had fallen to under 1600 for the first time ever, but this had been offset by increasingly complex needs. Photo / File

High needs people moving in - or being moved - to Buller are pushing some local services to breaking point.

More than 80 people working in health, social services and education were interviewed for the newly released Buller Community Profile, prepared for the Buller Interagency Forum by Community and Public Health.

They said newcomers needed jobs, suitable homes, support, affordable food and transport to services.

The Reefton Medical Centre said its patient roll had fallen to under 1600 for the first time ever, but this had been offset by increasingly complex needs.

"There is an increase in families moving into Reefton for lower rent, who present with higher needs," the centre said. "They think the services will be available but they aren't. Then the community has to pick up the pieces."

The Ngakawau Health Centre said it had lost 50 patients because of mine jobs disappearing, but demand had not fallen because elderly and lower socio-economic people were moving in.

Poutini Waiora said local families were missing out on Housing New Zealand homes because of families moving in.

Staff from Westport, Karamea and Reefton medical centres expressed concern over lack of support services for mental health sufferers.

All were worried about meeting Buller's rapid shift to an aging population and the increasingly complex needs.

They also reported that more older people were "just at their limit" of being home alone.

Health services gaps included: continuity of care in general practice (particularly long-term care), services for youth, residential care for elderly, alcohol and drug early intervention, after-hours care, Maori health and mental health.

Health clinic staff said they were increasingly faced with complex, hard to resolve situations. They were concerned about the growing pressure on clinic staff, counsellors and social workers. They said many patients had mild to moderate mental health issues and fell below the threshold for specialist level services.

Government agencies

The report also provides comments from four government agencies � the Department of Internal Affairs, the Inland Revenue Department, the Ministry of Social Development and the Buller District Council, and West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor.

Their concerns included lack of service co-ordination, duplication, and gaps.

They said it was hard to retain and keep skilled staff, deliver increasingly complex services to more people, and retain existing levels of service.

The council said it was struggling to maintain service levels in the face of declining resources and higher compliance costs and overheads.

A compounding factor was lower rates revenue because 600 of its 6000 ratepayers were receiving a rates rebate.

Applications to the mayoral relief fund � designed for short-term assistance � had increased.

Council's Move to Westport campaign, encouraging Canterbury retirees to move to Westport � had resulted in 23 house sales to date.

"While this strategy is generally seen as beneficial, the influx of significant numbers of older people could potentially place further demands on health and other services," the report said.

Some of the agencies said that high needs people moving to Buller were accustomed to more support services than Buller could provide. Others believed WINZ seemed to be helping high needs, low income clients to move to Buller for cheap housing.


Non-government organisations - 21 social service providers in Buller � spoke about struggling to cope with high needs clients, find suitable staff, and attract secure funding.

Homebuilders said there was "huge need, beyond resources". It was funded for only 75 clients for counselling services this year � half as many as it saw last year.

Buller Reap said high needs families were moving or being moved into the region and local intelligent, skilled workers were leaving.

Churches reported more poverty and more demand for social services.

Real estate

Housing and real estate agencies said houses weren't selling, prices had fallen and older houses were rapidly deteriorating. New houses built by investors remained unsold.

There had been a big increase in tenancy applications from the unemployed, beneficiaries and people with mental health conditions who did not meet minimum letting criteria.

Housing New Zealand had had a big increase in demand for housing in Buller.

Real estate agents also said WINZ was helping high needs, low income clients to move into Buller, despite the district's rising unemployment.

Education providers

Education providers said the socio-economic problems were limiting their capacity to deliver quality education, as well as harming students' well-being and ability to learn.

They spoke of transience, negative family dynamics, financial stress, mental health issues and challenging behaviours.

Maruia School reported three quarters of its roll turned over each year.

A Westport primary school said parents lacked emotional intelligence. Families had become less resilient and lacked strategies. "People just do not know what is best."

Buller Reap said there was "lack of emotional resilience/mindfulness/family/grief support. Increase in family breakdowns due to fathers/breadwinner moving away for work/families stuck here, kids coming to school more stressed".

Westport South School said the Ministry of Social Development was encouraging high need families to move to Buller, putting extra pressure on the community.


Police described working in a tough and challenging community experiencing multiple stresses. Police were having more call-outs and more difficulty resolving incidents and conflicts.

Reefton police said other agencies passed the buck to police.

Karamea police said there were no mental health support services available, particularly alcohol and drug counselling.


Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 24 Oct 2016 07:23:08 Processing Time: 629ms