Healthcare workers in Horowhenua are planning protest action over new plans that would mean hundreds of New Zealand workers in the regions lose their jobs.

Restructuring of Healthcare NZ could eventually mean as many as 14 jobs would be axed in the area. The workers were asked not to comment to media by their employer Healthcare NZ at a recent meeting in Levin.

Horowhenua workers were urged to join a protest in Palmerston North yesterday and are planning their own protest in Levin, as workers and support staff from around the country take to the streets.

Already this week there have been many protests in towns in both the North and South Islands.

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The proposal would centralise the service and disestablish 200 jobs around the country, with an Auckland call centre replacing the local managers and centres around the country.

Levin workers spoken to by Horowhenua Chronicle did not want to be named, but felt the decision to shut all regional call centres would have widespread repercussions for both clients and staff.

Levin man Laurie Allen.
Levin man Laurie Allen.

They feared support workers would be sent out on jobs by people with no geographical knowledge of the area, and also call centre staff in Auckland would be unaware of specific client needs.

There were five staff in the Levin centre directly facing the axe, while they said Healthcare NZ was also looking at changes to community housing that provided 24-hour support for people with a range of disabilities.

Levin woman Jan Allen, 55, left full-time employment to care for her elderly parents Laurie and Anne Allen three years ago.

"They are your Mum and Dad at the end of the day," she said.

Her mother was a very private woman who had suffered from heart failure and renal failure for many years.

"She was very proud woman and was so embarrassed at having someone come to take care her. She had all her faculties, so to lose her independence was hard," she said.

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"But she was matched so beautifully. They build up a rapport with clients which can be really important, as it was with Mum."

"I don't know what I would have done without them."

When Anne Allen died six months ago, Laurie Allen's dementia worsened considerably. But rather than go into a resthome, she said at 89 her father was comfortable in his own home.

Jan Allen and her father Laurie Allen.
Jan Allen and her father Laurie Allen.

Jan said she survived on a caregivers benefit of $268 a week to ensure her father maintained a quality of life, but she couldn't do it without the help of support workers.

She was grateful for the assistance as it meant her father could continue to live at home. And it gave her a much-needed break, too.

"I appreciate the respite. I often go and have a shower while they care for Dad," she said.

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Seeing how the system worked first-hand in Horowhenua, she felt it was important to retain call centre staff with local knowledge.

"They know the people and can match up the client to the caregiver, and have a knowledge of locality, too."

Levin woman Lynn Amos, 71, said her late husband Terry suffered from chronic arthritis and Parkinson's disease and she relied on the help of the health support workers.

"If he fell over I couldn't pick him up," she said.

"He needed quite a bit of care and not everybody was suitable, so they were able find a match."

"I was still working in Wellington at that time and I knew someone was coming to help with showering and medication," she said.

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Terry Amos died two years ago. He had needed home care for the last seven years of his life. Lynn Amos needed Healthcare visits herself now for a "bung heart".

"It's about dignity. You try and keep people in their homes as long as you can, don't you? I have no immediate family living close by," she said.

When she was rushed to hospital support staff have made sure her house was locked and bags packed.

She wanted call centre staff to remain local and not centralised in Auckland.

"I think it stinks. We'll just be voices over the phone," she said.

Meanwhile, Public Service Association national secretary Kerry Davies said Healthcare NZ should prioritise the needs of staff and the communities they serve.

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HealthCare NZ workers protest job cuts in Palmerston North.
HealthCare NZ workers protest job cuts in Palmerston North.

PSA remained hopeful any planned job cuts could be reversed before it was too late, he said.

"We believe the company is making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons...we have serious concerns about the impact proposed job losses will have on both staff and clients," he said.

"We remain hopeful a different and better outcome can be reached. These workers are dedicated to their profession and to the vulnerable people they help care for."

"This is part of the bigger picture. The funding model for home support care is broken and we need Ministry of Health and other funders to take responsibility for ongoing problems in this sector."

"It is not good enough that a mostly female workforce in New Zealand is being treated this way. They deserve better."

A restructuring announcement was due on March 3.

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HealthCare NZ was privately-owned business established in 1988. It provided services including wellbeing, psychological and behavioural support, rehabilitation, disability, mental health, well-being and nursing.

Working with referrals from District Health Boards, Healthcare NZ was awarded the Government contract to provide home care support for vulnerable people, including patient discharges.

Healthcare NZ was encouraging staff to use the Employee Assistance Programme counselling and support services.

Healthcare NZ it has promised it will review all feedback to proposed changes that could see job losses at regional offices all over New Zealand.

Its media liason officer David Millar issued a press release on Thursday afternoon last week with comment attributed to Healthcare Cheif Executive Venessa Dudley.

Dudley said that early this year HealthCare NZ released for consultation a "change proposal designed to keep our organisation viable and strong into the future".

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"A consultation process held with staff across the country has ensured the opportunity for both general input and for direct personal discussions with those staff impacted by the proposal," she said.

"The feedback will be carefully considered before any final decision is made."

"To correct misunderstandings reported in the media, the proposed changes will not see any of our local branches close and all our services will be maintained."

"There are no changes to either the number of frontline clinical staff and support workers or the work they do."

"This proposal updates our administration and management systems to better support modern, effective and co-ordinated decision-making while enabling us to maintain our strong network of branches and local connections and relationships."

At a protest held in Palmerston North that same day PSA media advisor Alastair Reit said,
"It won't work. There's no way you can replace people with a call centre (in Auckland)."

Reith said the sector is underfunded by Government and the DHBs and he added it was a contradiction that these healthcare sectors were privately-owned but Government funded.