A former senior manager at the Northland District Health Board has been called out of retirement to take the helm at the troubled Whangaroa Health Services Trust.
Kim Tito has been appointed general manager for an initial 12-week period. His appointment, made jointly by the trust and the health board, follows the sudden resignation earlier this month of trust CEO Mana Hape and chairwoman Violet Walker.
In the preceding months the trust had suffered an exodus of clinical staff, including three GPs and several senior nurses. The last permanent GP, Alison McAlwee, who had worked in Whangaroa for 35 years, finished yesterday. She has taken up a new position in Kaitaia.
Tito, who retired in 2016, said the call to help out at Whangaroa came as a "bolt out of the blue". He hoped he would not be needed much longer than 12 weeks.
"But whenever I leave I want to make sure the place is stable and has a good direction."
Tito believed the ructions at the trust, and the resulting loss of staff, were due to a "communications breakdown".
A shortage of GPs over the next few weeks could lead to reduced services, he warned.
"The next couple of weeks will be the pinch point but we will endeavour to communicate with the community as clearly as possible and keep them up to speed about any changes caused by the loss of staff. It should be only short term."
Tito was due to meet Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation yesterday to discuss short-term cover and progress on recruiting new permanent staff.
He was not optimistic about luring back staff who had quit in recent months, though that could change once the situation at the trust settled down again. Finding medical staff, especially ones who wanted to live locally, was a challenge in many rural areas.
Tito said he knew Whangaroa and its health issues "reasonably well" though he wasn't yet familiar with the trust's day-to-day procedures. He was finding his feet and "understanding where staff are at and what their views are".
The Whangaroa community also knows Tito because he fronted a district health board review of Whangaroa health services in 2013. That review controversially proposed closing Kauri Lodge resthome and two GP beds at the former Kaeo hospital. Most of the proposals were dropped after a series of stormy public meetings.
Another review of Whangaroa health services, this time by consultants Ernst and Young, has been commissioned by the trust and the health board. It is due to be completed by the end of July.
Tito started his health career as a nurse in the 1970s and held executive roles at the Northland District Health Board from 1992-2016, most recently as general manager of Māori health and of mental health and addiction.
He lives at Ocean Beach in Whangārei but plans to stay two to three nights a week in Kaeo.
Until the call-up he had been filling his retirement as the chairman of Ōtangarei Papakāinga, teaching rongoā Māori and organising Te Houtaewa challenge, a Ninety Mile Beach ultra-marathon.