Twenty-two Whakatāne Hospital staff members have taken leave as a result of issues arising from the Whakaari White Island eruption.
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This comes as the Bay of Plenty District Health Board releases its Whakaari White Island Recovery Plan which outlines the organisation's emergency response to the eruption, the recovery plan going forward, current issues and future possible risks.
Staffing roster gaps were highlighted as an issue, where staff may not be able to resume their previous position. Additional clinical staff had been sourced from other parts of New Zealand and Australia but this ended on January 31.
DHB Whakaari recovery manager and emergency planning team lead Josephine Peters said the 22 staff who took leave since the December 9 eruption were from clinical and non-clinical areas.
As part of the long-term recovery, staff will be offered one-on-one confidential counselling support, as well as mirimiri (Māori massage), on-site at the hospital, Peters said.
"We are closely monitoring the situation as we are aware that people respond to trauma in different ways and the level of support required may change in coming months."
Peters said operational debriefs would be held to give those involved an opportunity to review the health board's processes, and identify what worked and what could be improved. Information for operational debriefs was still being gathered and the DHB expected this to be finalised by April.
After the 2.11pm eruption, the report said Whakatāne Hospital started to receive patients at 4.06pm by helicopter and ambulance.
The hospital received 31 patients in total, including four who did not survive by the time they arrived. Another three people were discharged and 24 who received care to stabilise their condition to allow transfer to other hospitals for speciality care.
Psychosocial support for staff began through a session held in the emergency department on the evening of the eruption.
In the following days, group and one-on-one counselling sessions were held at the hospital. Two counsellors were also sent to Mataatua Marae to provide community support.
The DHB has also worked to provide support or formulate a psychosocial response for the community, Ngati Awa affiliates, emergency responders, local helicopter pilots and others potentially affected by the event.
Psychosocial support for the community continued to be managed from Mataatua Marae through Ngāti Awa Social and Health Services (NASH). About 25 people approached NASH for support.
The Ministry of Social Development had provided $90,000 for psychosocial support, however the Ministry of Health told the DHB the recovery process must be funded from base funding.
According to the report, a registry was established to record staff who might have been potentially affected by toxic ash.
However, Toi Te Ora Public Health determined any exposure was secondary with the health effects likely to be minimal and the Fire Service Advisory Committee said there was no need for health monitoring.
University of Otago toxic gas exposure expert Associate Professor David McBride said public health authorities were likely right to flag the need for monitoring because the dangerous gas, hydrogen sulphide, was present to a minimal degree at Whakaari.
The Bay of Plenty health board has been approached for further comment regarding what specific issues prompted staff to go on leave, how many staff members have used the counselling services and free GP visits, how much the recovery process is going to cost the DHB and how many additional workers were brought in to bolster staff numbers.
Apex, New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Public Service Association, and Association of Salaried Medical Specialists have also been approached for comment.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
EASTERN BAY OF PLENTY SUPPORT
In crisis? Call Bay of Plenty District Health Board Mental Health Crisis Team Tauranga 0800 800 508 or eastern Bay of Plenty 0800 774 545.
• Call Māori Health Services, Whakatāne Hospital on 306 0954 for information on kaupapa Māori support providers in the eastern Bay of Plenty.