May 18, 2022

First Health and Wellness Centre founder and clinical services director Trish Wilkinson (left) with counsellor Kath MacKinnon and Christina Brown of Great Hands Therapeutic Massage – who rent rooms at the centre. PHOTOS/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

In the midst of a region-wide doctor shortage and increased pressure on primary care thanks to covid, a community-led satellite health service is battling to keep its doors open.

First Health and Wellness Centre, based in Lansdowne, is a walk-in, nurse-led clinic – providing both emergency medical care and routine services outside of regular business hours.

The centre, which opened in 2020, was founded by registered nurse Trish Wilkinson in response to patients’ frustrations about the lack of affordable after-hours health services in Wairarapa.

Eighteen months on, the centre is busier than ever: not only attending to patients referred from Wairarapa Hospital’s emergency department, but people facing a several-week wait to see their regular GP, or unable to enrol at a new medical centre.

Tu Ora Compass Health’s website shows only two of Wairarapa’s seven general practices are taking on new patients.

At present, the centre is ineligible for government funding, and is heavily reliant on community donations to cover overheads.

AN application to Tu Ora Compass Health, the primary health organisation for the Wellington region, was declined – as the centre provides “episodic care”, as opposed to a longer-term primary care model.

With the region’s general practices under the pump, Wilkinson predicts the centre will get busier still – but fears it will struggle to stay open without consistent funding.

“We can’t shut up shop – that’s out of the question,” Wilkinson said.

“There is a huge need in the community for our services. There are people having to wait up to a month to see their doctor.

“We’ve got people moving here who haven’t been able to enrol with a medical centre, because they’re mostly full.

“There are still people waiting for hours at ED because they can’t afford an $85 after hours fee.

“The Government says that what we’ve been doing [in primary care] isn’t working – so we need to innovate.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing – and we’re not getting the support we need in return.”

The centre was able to open thanks to fundraising efforts by the Manaaki Ki Wairarapa Community Trust, established by Wilkinson in 2016.

Her vision was to set up a health service which would ease pressure on emergency services, and offer patients “flexibility and choice” – particularly those unable to see their GP during business hours.

Wilkinson and colleague Donna Campbell provide a range of services, such as injury care, cervical smears, electrocardiograms, stitch removal, children’s immunisations, and routine injections.

The centre hopes to recruit a volunteer nurse practitioner who can work up to six hours a week, and possibly provide remote services.

Wilkinson and her team are grateful for the financial support they have received from the community, which has covered rent, power, digital patient management systems, and wages for a part-time administrator.

To help with funding grants, the centre will be posting a survey on its Facebook page, allowing patients to share their experiences.

  • To donate to the First Health and Wellness Centre online, go to givealittle.co.nz/org/manaaki-ki-wairarapa.

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