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First Health at back of queue

A health centre in Masterton is triaging six patients per day, yet the founder is half-seriously considering whether she needs to sell a kidney to keep the business afloat.

This is not a new problem for the First Health and Wellness Centre.

Ever since the service began operating in 2020, securing ongoing funding has been a consistent headache.

Although the team behind the centre are happy to be out of their previous smaller and mouldy premises, the move down the road to a larger building has come at a cost.

Now facing higher rent and delayed bills from the move, centre founder and nurse Trish Wilkinson wants the centre to have “a fair share of the health dollar”.

“I don’t know how we’ll continue, yet we can’t stop because people have nowhere else to go,” Wilkinson said.

“I worry that we’re not going to be able to pay the rent at the end of the month unless I sell a kidney or something.”

There are still outstanding bills from the move to be paid, like the $900 fee to transfer the phones, and $3300 for the new building’s carpet.

After telling the Times-Age last year that shutting up shop was “out of the question”, a now resigned Wilkinson “I worry that we’re not going to be able to pay the rent at the end of the month unless I sell a kidney or something.”

There are still outstanding bills from the move to be paid, like the $900 fee to transfer the phones, and $3300 for the new building’s carpet.

After telling the Times-Age last year that shutting up shop was “out of the question”, a now resigned Wilkinson maintains they are “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

“If we closed our doors and said ‘no more’, we’ve still got all this money to pay back and people still aren’t getting the help they need.”

The centre has always had a tough time accessing public health funding, as there are limited categories it qualifies for, and has only remained in operation thanks to fundraisers, donors, and the service fees charged to patients.

The centre has seen over 2200 people since it opened in 2020.

In September, 137 people walked through the doors of the centre needing medical attention.

Out of these, 48 patients were registered with a clinic outside of Wairarapa, and 44 weren’t registered with a clinic at all.

Wilkinson has previously told the Times-Age that the public health system attaches value to patients registered with a clinic, which doesn’t work for the centre as it only sees walk-in patients and doesn’t register them.

Now, there is a group working on a proposal to Tū Ora Compass Health, Wilkinson said, but it is anticipated it will be a while before it results in any funding for the centre.

Tu Ora Compass Health chief executive Justine Thorpe said her organisation has had regular meetings and conversations with First Health and Wellness Centre about possible avenues of support.

“All medical centres across the country must apply and meet certain criteria to receive PHO [public health organisation] funding,” Thorpe said.

“We would welcome an application from them that meets the criteria.”

Thorpe could not comment on whether First Health has previously been turned down for funding, due to confidentiality, but stressed that all applications and business cases have to meet the organisation’s policy criteria before being presented to the board.

“We have offered guidance and advice to First Health and Wellness on their application and await their application that meets the criteria.”

Thorpe also encouraged those needing to access a GP service to use Practise Plus telehealth appointments.

Appointments are available after hours and at weekends, often on the same day. There is also a service for unenrolled patients to access appointments during regular hours.

Meanwhile, Wairarapa Hospital emergency department head Norman Gray has praised the centre for the pressure it’s taken off the stretched-thin hospital.

“They meet an unmet need and certainly help ease the pressure of the emergency department,” Gray said.

“People with a simple infection that may respond to antibiotics can get that done, as opposed to waiting until they’re so sick they’ve got pneumonia and need to come to hospital and be admitted.”

Conservatively estimating that an overnight stay costs the hospital at least $500, Gray said this also assists with the hospital’s issue of capacity.

Currently, around 50 people per day are going through the hospital’s emergency department, while Gray said the facility is built for a maximum of 40.

“That’s a longstanding problem with it now.” maintains they are “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

“If we closed our doors and said ‘no more’, we’ve still got all this money to pay back and people still aren’t getting the help they need.”

The centre has always had a tough time accessing public health funding, as there are limited categories it qualifies for, and has only remained in operation thanks to fundraisers, donors, and the service fees charged to patients.

The centre has seen over 2200 people since it opened in 2020.

In September, 137 people walked through the doors of the centre needing medical attention.

Out of these, 48 patients were registered with a clinic outside of Wairarapa, and 44 weren’t registered with a clinic at all.

Wilkinson has previously told the Times-Age that the public health system attaches value to patients registered with a clinic, which doesn’t work for the centre as it only sees walk-in patients and doesn’t register them.

Now, there is a group working on a proposal to Tū Ora Compass Health, Wilkinson said, but it is anticipated it will be a while before it results in any funding for the centre.

Tu Ora Compass Health chief executive Justine Thorpe said her organisation has had regular meetings and conversations with First Health and Wellness Centre about possible avenues of support.

“All medical centres across the country must apply and meet certain criteria to receive PHO [public health organisation] funding,” Thorpe said.

“We would welcome an application from them that meets the criteria.”

Thorpe could not comment on whether First Health has previously been turned down for funding, due to confidentiality, but stressed that all applications and business cases have to meet the organisation’s policy criteria before being presented to the board.

“We have offered guidance and advice to First Health and Wellness on their application and await their application that meets the criteria.”

Thorpe also encouraged those needing to access a GP service to use Practise Plus telehealth appointments.

Appointments are available after hours and at weekends, often on the same day. There is also a service for unenrolled patients to access appointments during regular hours.

Meanwhile, Wairarapa Hospital emergency department head Norman Gray has praised the centre for the pressure it’s taken off the stretched-thin hospital.

“They meet an unmet need and certainly help ease the pressure of the emergency department,” Gray said.

“People with a simple infection that may respond to antibiotics can get that done, as opposed to waiting until they’re so sick they’ve got pneumonia and need to come to hospital and be admitted.”

Conservatively estimating that an overnight stay costs the hospital at least $500, Gray said this also assists with the hospital’s issue of capacity.

Currently, around 50 people per day are going through the hospital’s emergency department, while Gray said the facility is built for a maximum of 40.

“That’s a longstanding problem with it now.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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