McDonald's opened in New Zealand in 1976 in Porirua. Now there's a McDonalds in most towns and cities in New Zealand. There is also the McDonald's sponsored Ronald McDonald House Charities New Zealand organisation.
I have been an admirer for many years. They partner with hospitals and are active in many local communities to support families when children are sick and need hospital care. There are Ronald McDonald Houses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. They fund family rooms in hospitals and family retreats. Rotorua has a Ronald McDonald Retreat that gives families the opportunity for respite and a quiet place to stay to help them heal. This is well supported by donations and community volunteers.
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Ronald McDonald House Charities put their money where their mouth is, literally. And it was gratefully accepted for many years by our hospitals. They were quick to accept the offer of family accommodation being provided for those who needed somewhere to stay when they had a child in hospital.
Having a family member in hospital can be a worrying time. When it is children it is often a very tough time for the whole family. Sometimes the children are just babies, too young to even know they are in a hospital. With older children they may understand they have to stay in hospital but might not necessarily want to. Like their parents they can get anxious too. For families to know they can stay close to the hospital, be just a stone's throw away, must go a long way to relieving the stress and worry.
A warm and welcoming Ronald McDonald House must be a godsend at this time and especially for those with financial hardship. There is no charge to stay in a Ronald McDonald House.
But now it appears Ronald McDonald Houses are a problem. They have passed their use by date. No longer desirable and wanted. At least this is how Counties Manukau District Health Board feels. Earlier this year it was presented with a proposal by Ronald McDonald House Charities to provide accommodation for families using Middlemore Hospital. After months of deliberation the DHB finally decided it did not want a relationship with Ronald McDonald House Charities. The brand McDonald's is the problem. It is contributing to and responsible for obese children in New Zealand. That's reportedly what's behind the concerned DHB's decision to say "thank you but no thank you".
They took "the advice of our public health team of doctors". I assume this public health team has another generous and willing business lined up to provide accommodation for the families of children admitted to Middlemore Hospital. They must have a backup plan. Family support and involvement goes a long way to help speedy health recovery. With children it's critical. And obviously the replacement business won't be one tainted by the products it sells.
McDonald's continue to operate its fast food business as it always has. The owner operators are part and parcel of the communities they live and work in. They are aware of the need today for healthier food options and have adjusted their range of fast food to be more in line with "healthy living". But it appears as if McDonald's is bearing the brunt, on behalf of all fast food outlets, for child obesity in New Zealand.
It wasn't that long ago when Ronald McDonald Houses were warmly welcomed by hospitals. McDonald's saw a need and responded. The cynic would say it was self-serving. Perhaps, but it could have stayed out of it altogether. But it didn't. McDonald's reached into the communities where it operates its businesses. Where it provides jobs. It fundraised, volunteered and partnered with corporates and donated time and money for the many programmes and community activities it initiated.
Obesity in New Zealand children is a serious health issue. We must continue to champion, and raise awareness, of healthy food options and what these look like. But if one DHB thinks a Ronald McDonald House has a bad smell about it, other DHBs will follow. That's the sad reality. But Ronald McDonald House Charities needn't worry. Nor should they stick around where they're not wanted. There are many organisations dealing with significant social problems that would benefit from having a relationship with them. They could use their profile, get involved and partner with these if they felt inclined to do so. There is help required to raise awareness about the need for transitional and social family housing, to reduce child and elder abuse and to support families attempting to live violence free. These immediately spring to mind.
And the families with sick children requiring accommodating near the hospital? The DHBs could set aside a few overnight parking spaces and have a few duvets on hand. At least they'll be close by and this isn't an unusual sight any more in New Zealand. Problem solved for the DHB.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua Lakes Council councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.