On Friday it seemed there was no way back to Kaitaia for an 88-year-old woman who was born there, and returned some 20 years ago after a long stint in Wellington.
Three weeks ago, upon her discharge from hospital, she was assessed as in need of residential care, but Kaitaia's rest home did not have a bed for her. So she moved into a home in Whangārei, registering with a GP there, as she was required to do to qualify for rest home care.
Three weeks later a bed became available at Switzer Residential Care, but by then she had been disenrolled by her Kaitaia general practice, Broadway Health, so did not have the required GP. Kaitaia's general practices last month ceased enrolling new patients, in response to what they said were unsustainable workloads for their GPs, meaning Mrs H had no choice but to stay in Whangārei.
Her niece told the Northland Age the situation was devastating for her aunt and her family, but yesterday there was better news; she had a GP, and hoped to move in at Switzer next week.
Switzer general manager Jackie Simkins had heard nothing as of late yesterday morning, however, saying unless she was formally advised she would not be able to guarantee that a bed would be available.
Last week Broadway Health CEO Jessie Hoskins told the Northland Age that Mrs H was currently enrolled with a GP in Whangārei, and could not legally be enrolled with two general practices. She was invited to respond to Mrs H's predicament but declined to do so.
Meanwhile, Mrs Simkins likened Kaitaia's GP crisis as a slowly-unfolding train wreck.
The issue went far beyond one elderly woman who wished to return to Kaitaia but could not do so, she said. It was having a profound effect on many people.
"I understand the GPs' situation. They can only do what they can do," she said, "but the number of people who are having to go into care outside their home community is growing, and will continue to grow.
"How sad it is that people are having to go into care in Kaikohe, Whangārei, or even further afield, separated from their friends and families, and can't come home? We can't just sit here and watch this happening.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate it will begin to affect our occupancy rate, potentially to the point where Kaitaia won't have a rest home at all."
The problem was also affecting the home's ability to recruit and retain staff. It already had two employees who didn't have GPs, and, relying heavily as it did on recruiting overseas, that number would inevitably grow.
"Only three of our 18 registered nurses are New Zealanders," Mrs Simkins said.
"And whether they are from New Zealand or overseas, who will want to work here if they don't have access to a GP? Professional people are going to vote with their feet, which is going to make maintaining a facility like Switzer even more difficult than it is now."
Page 7 — Spare the frail elderly.