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Centre worries about funding

Masterton’s First Health and Wellness Centre’s move to bigger premises has been a success, but those on the ground have concerns about how it can sustain itself.

Established by Trish Wilkinson in 2020, the centre was initially designed to tackle a lack of affordable after-hours care but quickly expanded to cater for those who are facing long waits to see a GP, or unable to enrol with a local clinic due to capacity constraints.

Wilkinson said the new space is feeling good, but with it also comes concerns about how the service will stay afloat.

“We’re in too deep now, just keeping our heads above water. But where else will people go?”

Wilkinson said that Te Whatu Ora’s funding model – which attaches a dollar value to every patient registered to a medical clinic – means there are limited funding pathways for the centre.

“We don’t fit into the box,” Wilkinson said.

“The funding should go with the person, not with where they’re enrolled.”

A contract with Te Whatu Ora would mean far less stress and uncertainty, Wilkinson added. Board member Richard Jackson said the centre is meeting a significant community need, and there needs to be an external shift for it to continue to do so.

“It seems that the multiple managerial levels of Te Whatu Ora need to develop some flexibility, some down-to-earth understanding of what happens on the frontline,” Jackson said.

“It’s about the people who have the accidents or sudden onset of illness, who need attention,” Jackson said.

“The system that’s established blocks them out because they’re away from home or can’t sign up.”

The centre’s new location comes with increased parking and space – so much, in fact, that Wilkinson said they are currently looking for anyone else in the healthcare sector who would be interested in leasing extra space.

Jude Clark, an advocate for the centre, said there needs to be better support for Wilkinson and the others trying to improve healthcare access.

“Trish, the founder and our driver of the centre, is the last to be paid,” Wilkinson said.

“That is not on. If we do not look after the people within this service, it’s going to disappear.”

Clark said the dollar value attached to a patient should be fed to the centre seeing and treating them and not to their registered clinic, which could be anywhere from “Ashburton to Auckland”.

“Even if that person doesn’t attend their clinic for 12 months, the money still goes to that service,” Clark said.

“The money attached to that person needs to come here because we have treated them.”

Clark said every provincial area struggling to find doctors would benefit from a service like First Health, something that’s evident in the increasing number of people using it to be seen by a healthcare professional – without which “a couple of them, I know for a fact, they would have been in dire straits”.

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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