The moral high ground is a lonely, windswept place. Only a few hardy souls dare to claim it and even they find the high ground is treacherous terrain. It is rocky and prone to slips and erosion and really isn't a safe place from which to mount an argument.

And yet that is precisely where the Counties Manukau DHB decided to take a stand and say thanks but no thanks to the offer of a Ronald McDonald House for the families of Middlemore Hospital patients.

The Herald on Sunday revealed last week the DHB's executive had turned down an offer from the charity to build a home on the hospital grounds.

They had considered the offer very carefully, apparently, as proposals of this nature "can be very divisive among staff and patients alike".


In a statement to the Herald on Sunday, the DHB said "On balance, we decided to take the advice of our public health team of doctors and to respectfully decline taking discussions further. We sincerely thank Ronald McDonald House Charity for their offer."

Just a few days later, a group called Public Health Association Otago Southland called for the Southern District Health Board to block Ronald McDonald House Charities from setting up a home in the soon-to-be-rebuilt Dunedin Hospital.

In an article in the Otago Daily Times, association chair Mary-Ann McKibben said McDonald's restaurants were inextricably linked to the Ronald McDonald houses through the contributions the restaurants make to the funding of the houses and through the publicity the fast food chain derives from being a corporate partner.

McKibben said she found it troubling a chain like McDonald's that for the most part serves food linked to increased weight and obesity-related diseases should be linked with health services.

That, too, was the problem the Counties DHB felt was insurmountable.

I can understand why Starship decided to do away with a McDonald's fast food outlet within the hospital in 2005. That's different. Captive audience. Very few other options when you have a sick child in hospital. Few healthy options on the menu - especially in 2005.

And I could understand the DHB's objections if the houses served up McDonald's meals morning, noon and night. Or if their corporate branding was all through the houses.

But it's not.


I've visited the house built for the families of Starship patients - not as the parent of a sick child, thank heavens, but to help fundraise. And it is truly extraordinary.

Beautifully appointed, clean and comfortable - Parents told me it is an absolute haven for them at one of the most stressful times of their lives.

The pressure on families who discover their child is desperately ill or whose lives are turned upside when their child is involved in an accident is extraordinary. Especially if their little one needs to be treated at Starship and they live out of town.

DHBs provide an accommodation allowance but staying at a purpose-built home on hospital grounds, being able to share your deepest fears and darkest moments with other parents who know what you are going through, is invaluable.

So many parents and grandparents contacted us on the radio this week to say they thought the stance taken by the DHBs was absurd and short-sighted.

They had been guests at the Ronald McDonald Houses around the country and could not speak more highly of the care they'd received. Many said they would not have coped without it.

One mum said her family was vegetarian and would never eat a McDonald's meal but that didn't prevent her using the services of the house and being extremely grateful it existed.

If the DHBs truly feel they're protecting the public's health and safety by refusing to be associated with a fast food chain, fine.

But come up with an alternative for families.

Put one of the many highly paid managers in the DHBs to find corporate donors and sponsors who align with the DHB's values and build a house that offers the same kind of services and sanctuary that Ronald McDonald Houses do.

Because it's very easy to make grand and noble gestures when you're not the one who suffers the consequences.