Fight for support service begins

Flanked by staff, Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Gillian Bremner and workers' advocate Mike Hanifin hold the home-based support service petition yesterday in Dunedin. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Flanked by staff, Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Gillian Bremner and workers' advocate Mike Hanifin hold the home-based support service petition yesterday in Dunedin. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Presbyterian church networks are being enlisted to fight the dumping of Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) as a provider of home-based support for older people in the South.

PSO and the Southland provider it hoped to partner for the new regional service have been dropped by the Southern District Health Board, which named its three chosen providers last month.

PSO, Disabilities Resource Centre Southland and workers' association Caregivers and Related Employees (Care) launched a petition this week calling for the board to rethink the decision.

However, in a statement yesterday, Southern board chief executive Carole Heatly said the decision would not be revisited.

''It is important that vulnerable clients and staff understand that we will be funding an enhanced and more flexible service.

''Once we have worked through the process to transfer staff and clients to the new providers, we will be out and about meeting with groups and writing and talking to clients to explain the new service,'' she said.

PSO chief executive Gillian Bremner said the petition was being distributed to Presbyterian church networks and throughout the wider community. Yesterday, it was posted to about 2500 home-support clients in Otago and Southland, who were under no obligation to sign it, Mrs Bremner said.

Care advocate Mike Hanifin said workers felt they had been traded in a ''marketplace'' in which they were supposed to transfer without complaint to a different employer.

Many were encountering worried clients whose concerns they tried to allay, which was difficult when they felt anxious themselves, he said.

Support workers Theresa Wedlock, Catherine Jowsey and Lynda Hurren told the Otago Daily Times they feared for their clients, but also for the jobs of their immediate superiors, whose job involved co-ordinating clients and carers.

As ''vulnerable workers'', the trio's jobs were safe, but they were unsure what they would do. Ms Wedlock said the transition would inevitably be ''messy'' and, despite assurances, doubted support workers would retain the same clients. PSO had invested in staff training and was now expected to hand over its staff and say ''good-bye'', Ms Wedlock said.

For the past decade, PSO had provided the ''restorative'' model the board said it wanted, but Ms Wedlock doubted the board grasped that.

Mrs Jowsey said the PSO team had an excellent rapport and met regularly to discuss the work. Each client received a tailored service, she said.

The provider changes start in March, with a three-month transition period.

The annual contract is worth about $5.5 million to PSO, which is awaiting legal advice about the matter.

One of the three chosen providers, Royal District Nursing Service New Zealand, is Australian-owned, and has provided services solely in Auckland.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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