A $14 million second stage of the Bay of Islands Hospital upgrade aims to create a ''one-stop shop'' for health services in the Mid North.
The site was blessed yesterday during a visit by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Andrew Little.
The 1500sq m facility will be built alongside the existing hospital in Kawakawa and will offer primary health services, a base for the town's GPs, outpatient clinics, cancer and kidney treatment.
The new facility is expected to open in 2023 and follows the completion of stage one, with a 20-bed ward and a new accident and medical centre, in 2018. That also cost around $14m, which was covered by the health board's own reserves.
By contrast stage two will be fully funded by the Government.
Ardern said the new facility would help the Northland District Health Board address inequitable health outcomes for Māori by making services easier to access.
"It's unacceptable that the place you live should determine the sort of healthcare get.
These new facilities will mean people can get the care they need close to home and close to whānau, rather than travelling to Whangārei or Auckland."
Primary health services will be run by iwi health provider Ngāti Hine Health Trust, which will lease part of the new building from the health board.
Ardern recalled her first visit, as an Opposition MP, to Kawakawa Hospital's renal unit. She was struck at that time by the dire need for kidney treatment and the poor conditions staff worked in.
Providing good infrastructure, however, only addressed part of the problem. The other part was creating a system that worked for everyone.
Māori had, for example, worse outcomes for every type of cancer except melanoma.
Removing such inequalities was the goal of the reforms Little was currently working on, she said.
The new facility has had a convoluted history so far.
Originally it was to have been built by Ngāti Hine Health Trust but it pulled out in 2018 citing spiralling construction costs and a reluctance to saddle future generations with debt.
The health board took over the then $13m project but cut it back to a facility half the size with fewer services and a $7m price tag.
Government funding has allowed the facility to be scaled back up to include some services new to the Mid North — such as cancer and haematology — as well a badly needed replacement for the existing renal unit.
Monday's visit coincided with Ardern's 41st birthday.
Staff gave her several options of where to go on her big day but she said she opted for Northland because she was always treated so kindly, despite the region's challenges, and because it gave her a chance to see old friends.
Ngāti Hine Health Trust chairwoman Rowena Tana said the iwi was also working with the district health board on the return of unused hospital land for the construction of housing, including kuia and kaumātua flats.
That would also benefit the hospital because it would mean kaumātua and kuia would be close by when their support was needed, as well as providing a nearby workforce.
Other MPs present on Monday were Kelvin Davis (Te Tai Tokerau), Willow-Jean Prime (Northland) and Emily Henderson (Whangārei).
Also taking part were descendants of Maihi Kawiti who gifted the hospital site in 1859, Ngāti Hine leader Waihoroi Shortland who conducted the blessing, the A-Line workers who will build the facility, and students of Bay of Islands College who performed the waiata.