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Health director steps down

With a tenure cursed with covid, Wairarapa’s health director was determined to stay positive.

Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa interim district director Dale Oliff is stepping down after three and a half years in the hospital’s top seat, her last day on December 31.

However, she will be staying at the hospital for another six months as the clinical lead of nursing.

There were many highlights and many challenges during her time. She said it was important to remain positive.

“Since I started, I cannot think of a time that I haven’t been happy to get out of bed.

“Wairarapa has very generous people. I’ve been in a really privileged position to lead in this community.”

She came to Wairarapa in July 2019 to be chief executive of the district health board [DHB].

Oliff was previously the chief operating officer, and later acting chief executive at Hutt Valley DHB.

In her time in Wairarapa, said she was proud of the strategy plans for Maori health.

“When I started, there were a lot of things I hoped to achieve.

“Hauora Mo Tatou, the strategic direction lined up really well. All the work around the Maori Health strategy was a really fantastic project. The Maori Health consultation, and the health plan to deal with inequity, which still exists in the health system.

“I had six months to get a strategic plan. First clinical plan given population growth, and the wellbeing plan. We did achieve all those things.”

She was also proud of the community response to the covid-19 pandemic.

“As a community in the covid response, we worked together with aged care, primary care, Maori and Pacific providers and pulled together. That’s how as a small rural community, we had a successful vaccination rollout.

However, covid also posed many challenges, especially keeping staff.

“The biggest challenges have been recruitment and retention. Delays in immigration, and closed borders have been a huge challenge, and it put pressure on our local staff.

“We had a number of staff off sick. The numbers were significant, we had all hands to the pump.

“The staff went above and beyond. We had administration staff working in the hospital.”

An MRI machine was given the green tick this year, after much anticipation.

Oliff was unsure when the MRI service would become available, but it was well on track.

“It would have been nice for it to arrive in my time. It’ll stop people having to driving to Palmerston North or Hutt. It is a service fundamental for a population like ours of 50,000. It’s really great for them to access this care.”

In the last six months, she oversaw the transition from 20 district health boards to one national health service Health NZ Te Whatu Ora.

A regional director will take over on January 31 to manage the former DHBs of Hawke’s Bay, Whanganui, Wairarapa, Midcentral, Capital and Coast, and Hutt Valley.

Oliff said she was optimistic about the health reforms.

“Places like Wairarapa struggled to receive health resources when the system worked regionally.

“By removing the boundaries, it’s made it so much easier for patients, to communicate with the services in Wellington and Palmerston North.

“Change is tricky, but with great leadership, patients will access things much easier.”

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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