A funding squeeze is shutting out several services delivered by the Otaki Women’s Health Group.
Funding from the Central Primary Health Organisation for sexual and reproductive health services was withdrawn recently after 18 years, leaving the centre wondering how it could remain viable with its main service and funding unavailable.
“More importantly, the community misses out on this much-needed service,” says the group’s project co-ordinator, Michelle Baker. “It’s the more vulnerable clients who will be most affected.”
The Ōtaki Women’s Health Centre is based at the old Ōtaki Maternity Hospital. It’s a place where women – and men – can ask for help and feel safe and supported.
The group was devasted by the withdrawal of funding and tried to convince Central PHO and MidCentral DHB to reconsider. It presented an alternative proposal to continue to deliver the sexual health services, but it was turned down.
In recent years other funding options have also been reduced, including from Pub Charity, which is no longer available in Ōtaki.
“We used to run lots of services and programmes, but we just don’t have the funding for them these days,” Michelle says. “It’s a real shame, because the need is still there and other agencies can’t provide the same services.”
One bright light, however, is a recent four-year extension of funding from Oranga Tamariki (Ministry of Social Development) for counselling services. Although it reaches only a limited numbers of clients, it ensures that the Women’s Health Service can continue to offer free counselling to the Ōtaki community for people who meet the criteria.
The centre is increasingly looking at using its own sources of funding to provide services, but it’s putting pressure on the team to find the money, and straining the centre’s financial resources. Funds are being sought from organisations such as the T G Macarthy Trust, One Foundation, Infinity Foundation and Wellington Community Trust, and representations are being made regularly to Oranga Tamariki and MSD.
“The current situation is just not sustainable long term,” Michelle says.
Besides the sexual health clinic, the centre also provided cervical screening clinics. These clinics are now only run once a fortnight and unless they are well used, this service might also go.
Gone are the days that the health centre could offer parenting programmes, anger management courses, self help and many other interesting programmes. Funding through Adult Community Education (ACE) has also disappeared.
Co-ordinators Michelle and Janet Murray still provide other health-related information services for women to promote well-being, and support women in the local community along with the counselling and cervical screening clinics.
“As much as anything, we’re here for the community, no matter what the issue might be,” Janet says. “Requests for help are often not directly related to health, but people need to talk about them and we usually have local contacts that can help.”
The centre began more than 30 years ago, in 1987, as a collective of individuals and supporting local organisations. It’s always had a focus on providing support and counselling, education and health services for women especially, but the centre also has many men who seek help.
The Ōtaki Women’s Health Group has a lease agreement with Land Information New Zealand (Linz) to lease the centre. Part of the agreement is that the group maintain the facility.
“When we group first took over as lead tenant, we worked with some prominent members of the community who helped us negotiate the lease, Janet says. “They were wonderful people like Anne Thorpe, Len Bayliss and Don Hunn. Their support was invaluable.”
The group set about upgrading the interior of the building, which had been neglected for many years. It was painted, new carpet laid throughout and new curtains installed, entailing many days of work and plenty of the group’s own money.
Other compatible groups and busineses sub-let spaces within the building. It is now fully tenanted and continues to provide a space for meetings for other community groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Dances of Universal Peace, yoga and at times Barnardos and Oranga Tamariki family group conferences.
In 2014, MenzShed moved into the old cottage on the property. The building was uninhabitable and needed plenty of work. The Women’s Health Group negotiated for four months with the Office of Treaty Settlements to include the cottage in its lease agreement, leading to the MenzShed having a new home. MenzShed have also put in an enourmous amount of work to upgrade the cottage.
“We love having MenzShed on site and we often call on them to do odd jobs at the health centre,” Michelle says.
Meantime, the Otaki Women’s Health Group continues to operate, if under a funding cloud. Staff and committee members are also involved in other community groups and organisations. They continue to work hard looking for funding so they can keep offering services to the Ōtaki community. New members – including for the committee – are always welcome.
Michelle and Janet have worked at the centre for 18 and 21 years respectively. They currently work 28 hours a week each and are available from 9am-2pm every week day.
Ōtaki Women’s Health Centre, 186 Mill Road (up the drive opposite Domain Rd). 06 364-6367.