An Auckland-based health clinic is set to take over GP services in Kaeo, ending a long period of uncertainty for patients of the embattled Whangaroa Health Services Trust.
The decision has, however, upset local health providers, who say they were shut out and not given a chance to put in a proposal.
Last week Whangaroa Health Services Trust (WHST) stated on its website it was ''pleased to announce that it has signed an agreement with Whānau Ora Community Clinic (WOCC) to deliver doctor and nurse services in Kaeo''.
''The trustees have negotiated a delivery model which ensures the ownership of the patient register. We look forward to working in collaboration with WOCC in delivering integrated health services which provide high quality outcomes to all our community and whānau across Whangaroa.''
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The new arrangement for primary healthcare comes after a financial and staffing crisis last year in which most of WHST's clinical staff quit, followed soon afterwards by the board chair and chief executive, and a report by consulting firm EY that found it was one month away from running out of money.
However, the decision to award the contract to WOCC, one day after a fiery public meeting in Kaeo, came as a surprise to local iwi organisation Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa.
Chief executive Toa Faneva said the rūnanga had registered an expression of interest in March and sought partnerships with local providers including Kaikohe-based medical practice Broadway Health.
Since then there had been only one engagement with the Northland District Health Board (NDHB) and WHST and he only found out via Facebook that the contract had gone to WOCC.
''We were overlooked in what could have been a really positive, viable partnership between us and Broadway Health,'' Faneva said.
'Way forward' for embattled Kaeo health trust
''Why aren't they considering the local provider? It's disheartening. We're attempting as a community and as an iwi to be part of the solution, if they let us. We strongly believe that leadership for health in Northland should stay in Northland, especially in primary care.''
Broadway Health clinical director Taco Kistemaker said his practice, together with the rūnanga, was not given a chance to put in an expression of interest.
It was not clear why that was, especially given that Broadway employed two GPs who had previously worked for the trust and were familiar with the area, and already had 500 Whangaroa patients on its books.
Kistemaker said Broadway Health had since been asked by the local community "to come in as a GP provider, to give an alternative to an option they don't want".
Discussions with the rūnanga started last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, WOCC director and co-owner George Ngatai said he hoped to be ready to start on November 20.
WOCC would not own the practice but had signed a 10-year agreement to operate clinical services.
The company, which worked mainly with Māori, Pacific and high-needs communities, already has 12 clinics in Auckland, Christchurch, Whakatāne and Port Waikato.
The Kaeo connection came through his wife, who was from Matangirau.
Ngatai said he was aware of the challenges in Whangaroa so he wasn't keen at first, but after discussions with WHST and its interim manager it seemed WOCC was a better match than the local providers.
WOCC's proposal was to provide two to three nurses, one nurse practitioner and 1.4 full-time equivalent GPs.
''It has to be sustainable. We don't want to get into the situation of previous management. We understand the challenges WHST has had but we're really excited about what we can do to support families in Whangaroa.''
Andrew Mardon, planning manager for the NDHB, said the selection of an alternative primary care provider was decided by the WHST board.
''NDHB agreed that WHST board members would seek feedback from the community through a series of meetings and the WHST board decision was made following that consultation process,'' he said.
However, WHST chairman Grant Lane said the trust did not have the option of going with the rūnanga, because the health board's criteria made it clear the contract had to go to an established healthcare provider.
''They wouldn't have got a look in (under health board criteria). We went with WOCC because we'd been shagged around for so long by the health board. This gave us an option where we could get doctors in place,'' Lane said.
WHST is contracted by the health board to provide free GP visits and other primary healthcare in the high-needs Whangaroa area. Hokianga is the only other place in New Zealand where it's free for anyone to see a doctor.
Fiery meeting sparks police complaints
Police have confirmed they are investigating what they describe as ''a minor disorder incident'' at a public meeting in Kaeo.
Two people have told the Advocate they were manhandled after the September 25 meeting in the town's community hall, which was called to introduce a new health provider. Three people have laid complaints with police.
One of the complainants, Waiatua Hikuwai, said someone had tried to wrest her phone and papers out of her hands, and after the meeting a young man had grabbed her by the arm and didn't let go until two local men intervened.
Constable Joe Wright confirmed he had received a report on September 26 regarding ''a minor disorder incident at a community meeting in Kaeo''.
''Police have spoken to individuals involved and enquiries are ongoing at this time,'' he said.
During the same meeting Hikuwai said Whānau Ora Community Clinic (WOCC) director George Ngatai had ''screamed in her face'' after she handed out leaflets claiming links between his clinic and Destiny Church.
Ngatai had also shouted abuse at representatives of Broadway Health and Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa, though they had nothing to do with the leaflet, she said.
Ngatai, who is not accused of assault, told the Advocate he had become upset after he was challenged about the church he attended, when he had addressed the same questions from the same people at an earlier meeting in Kaeo.
He had been accused of using WOCC as a Trojan horse to bring Destiny into Whangaroa, but he said it wasn't relevant what church he belonged to.
The leaflet which caused the fuss was a list of companies, including WOCC, registered at the same South Auckland address as Destiny Church.
The companies' register shows WOCC is wholly owned by Ngatai and his wife Raewyn Bhana.
Ngatai was previously the chief executive of Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Te Oranga Ake, the social services arm of Destiny Church.
He has also co-chaired the Māori Party's Tamaki Mākaurau electorate — in 2013 he stood unsuccessfully for the role of party president — and is a current Counties Manukau District Health Board member and a director of BDO Marketing and Business Solutions.