A big final pay cheque can help sweeten the bitterness of being made redundant. New figures show a number of employees departing from the Lakes District Health Board received their share of a sizeable sum. Reporter Jean Bell delves into the data and discovers the redundancies have been made in some services helping our most vulnerable.
More than $260,000 was paid to employees made redundant by the Lakes District Health Board in five years.
Some redundancies occurred in the mental health service and a Rotorua counsellor says community services cannot handle the influx of patients from what she calls an already overloaded system.
Between the 2013/2014 and 2017/2018 financial years, $265,291 was paid to six employees made redundant, according to documents released under the Official Information Act to the New Zealand Taxpayer's Union.
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A spokeswoman for the Lakes DHB said the staff worked within the Mental Health and Addictions Service and Needs Assessment Service Co-ordination.
Five of the six staff had been employed by the DHB for more than 10 years. The shortest tenure was one year and the longest tenure was 19-and-a-half years.
She said the redundancies occurred due to funding priority changes and one person was re-employed by the DHB in a casual position.
Rotorua counsellor Huhana Pene said community counsellors were already bearing the burden of the overloaded mental health service and the redundancies would not have helped.
Pene said under equipped community services were seeing potentially high-risk clients who should be seen by the mental health unit or go into residential care. She had first noticed the influx of these patients in 2016.
"The mental health unit is well is truly over their limit. The waiting times are too long and patients are starting to flow out into the community," Pene said.
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Pene believed it was a problem not just affecting Lakes DHB as she had received calls from other neighbouring DHBs asking if she could pick up work.
Lakes DHB chief executive Nick Saville-Wood said the redundancies occurred some time ago and most of the resource was moved from the hospital to community mental health services.
He said the demands placed on the DHB's services exceeded the original funding "ring-fenced" for mental health services, like many others in the country.
He said this had been picked up by the Mental Health Inquiry and the DHB welcomed the additional funding the Government had dedicated to prevention and intervention services.
Saville said the DHB was focusing on a new model of care for mental health service called Te Ara Tauwhirotanga, a programme co-developed with the community and local service providers.
Ministry of Health deputy director general mental health and addiction Robyn Shearer said the ministry was not able to comment on the specific cases at any DHB, but she said there was significant pressure on mental health services around the country and there was a need to ensure essential services were available to everyone who needed them.
Shearer said the Government had made a commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing through the Wellbeing Budget, and the Ministry of Health was committing a significant amount of money to growing and expanding the mental health workforce in New Zealand.
"It has committed $6m to sustaining and expanding existing primary services at 22 general practice sites across the country and a kaupapa Māori programme. These provide cover for over 170,000 people."
Shearer said the ministry was calling for proposals for new service to expand access to primary mental health services accessed through GPs.
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said redundancies that were made for the sake of improved efficiency should be welcomed but individual payouts should be decreased.
"Every dollar spent on a payout is a dollar less that can be used for the core health services that taxpayers expect their money to be spent on."
He said DHBs should annually compare the size and number of redundancy payouts.
Rotorua Budget Advisory Service manager Pakanui Tuhura said few people could be financially prepared for redundancy.
Tuhura said it was uncommon for people to have enough "rainy day" money and superannuation funds like KiwiSaver were difficult to access for hardship reasons.
She said one of the few ways of combating redundancy was to have a diverse skillset and work experience.
Job loss could be mitigated by working more than one job and picking up extra hours there if someone was made redundant.
Citizens Advice Bureau Rotorua branch manager Jane Eynon-Richards said she believed there had been a decline in employment contracts that included clauses regarding redundancy and compensation.
While each case was different, she said people were generally informed of the legal processes that an employer needed to follow if it was considering restructuring.
According to the Employment NZ website, redundancy and payment of redundancy compensation, where applicable, was the last option and should only happen once all other redeployment options have been exhausted.
An Employment NZ spokesperson said anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know is advised to call the Employment New Zealand contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.