A project to bring Waimarino health and social services together has huge potential for improving Māori health, Whanganui Regional Health Network chief executive Judith McDonald says.
The change is being led by Erena Mikaere, who manages Ngāti Rangi's Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan.
The aim is to join the GP practice that serves Ohakune and Raetihi with what is now the Waimarino Health Centre in a single organisation, and add more services.
The new body has the provisional name of Ruapehu Wellness Centre, and people have had a chance to say what they want at three sessions in Raetihi and Ohakune on March 23-24 and April 7.
About 60 people have been engaged so far and more input will come from the Tihiora Ruapehu Wellness Summit on April 14-15 at Te Pae Tata Community Learning Hub in Ohakune. The speakers include Dr Jason Tuhoe, Sir Mason Durie and Che Wilson.
There will be further consultation in Raetihi and Ohakune on April 20-21.
So far, people have said they want a more holistic wellness system that incorporates Māori and other alternative healing approaches.
Similar models have been developed elsewhere and the possibilities were exciting, McDonald said.
"People say that things can't happen. It's too hard. It's too complicated. That's not the feeling I have here."
Rural communities had an advantage over larger places, she said, because they were smaller and people were more connected.
The project has money to work with. In early 2020 then Health Minister David Clark gave Whanganui District Health Board $2 million to extend the Waimarino Health Centre and improve its services.
Architecture firm Jasmax has been engaged for the design.
The Whanganui Regional Health Network has been running GP services for the Waimarino from a surgery in Raetihi. GP Claudia Mosavo had been a solid deliverer there, McDonald said, and locums had assisted at times.
Dr Ram Reddy began work there this week and will stay for six months.
The practice, called Ruapehu Health Ltd, has 3567 people enrolled. Of those, 60 per cent can be categorised as "high need". A workload like that needed 1.8 to two full-time GPs, McDonald said.
However, Ruapehu Health also has a "top of scope" nursing team that can prescribe medication, and a counsellor/social worker role to supplement the GPs.
"Recruiting into isolated rural communities has been quite fraught around the country," McDonald said.
Ruapehu Health would be handed over to the new organisation, McDonald said. It was not clear exactly who would own or run it, but Waimarino iwi Ngāti Uenuku and Ngāti Rangi would be involved in that decision.
The new centre would not be fully set up until 2023, but McDonald said changes in the way people worked together were just as important as a building.
"Behind the scenes we are looking at ways that we can create a transition that creates momentum," she said.