Hamish Brown and Karl Metzler Leading the Covid-19 response
Covid-19 hit Otago and Southland hard in 2022, but its impact would have been far, far worse but for the diligent efforts of hundreds of health professionals across the South.
From Ranfurly to Rakiura, from Clifton to Caversham, sleeves were rolled up and vaccines intended to provide protection against the pandemic disease were dispensed.
Co-ordinating that massive effort, and helping to create things such as mass vaccination centres where none existed before, were now Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand — Southern chief executive Hamish Brown and Gore Health Ltd chief executive Karl Metzler.
While both would be quick to claim none of the credit was theirs and that all of it should go to the staff, the fact remains that little of the infrastructure, few of the staff and little pre-planning existed for them to implement a vaccination programme which at its peak was injecting Southerners faster than the Ministry of Health could send vaccines south.
The South remains one of the most highly vaccinated parts of New Zealand, and by May 2022 mass vaccination centres could be closed.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly brought misery ... more than 180 deaths, more than 140,000 cases, and new variants are challenging people’s immunity.
But without the timely delivery of the vaccination programme who knows how high each of those grim numbers might have been?
— Mike Houlahan
Niamh Shaw — Community advocate
Niamh Shaw is a familiar name around Upper Clutha, as a former Queenstown Lakes district councillor and a member of several local boards.
Behind every project last year, one factor remained a consistent thread: community.
After transitioning out of her role as councillor, Ms Shaw’s focus stayed on how to give back.
"I used to look at issues or need in the community and wonder why wasn’t anyone doing something about it. But now I think, ‘Why am I sitting around waiting for someone else to step in? Let’s give it a little nudge’."
She began the process of setting up a community foundation last year.
"It’s a legacy fund which will enable local philanthropy and dynamically respond to community need, in perpetuity for this and future generations. I’m part of a steering group of some incredible community leaders and really excited to see it moving beyond an idea."
Another standout was her involvement in the Wanaka Alcohol Group.
"We’ve reconsidered our impact and purpose, which is to empower parents and really anyone who cares about our young people, to support them in dealing with adult-sized problems. In early November, over 40 people attended a community korero to gauge support for the new focus."
After a big year, Ms Shaw enjoyed Christmas holidays with family over the hill in Oamaru.
— Aspen Bruce
Evelyn Cook and Pania Coote Mana whenua representatives
The Invercargill City Council’s mana whenua representatives are excited about their roles and the work they are doing for their community.
Evelyn Cook, of Waihopai Runaka, and Pania Coote, of Te Runanga o Awarua, were appointed in October last year after the council’s resolution to establish two seats on its committees — a significant and historic decision that came 150 years after the local body was established in 1871.
"I believe there have been parts where our voices have been beneficial. We have a different perspective of the world in terms of not just being iwi but from our life experiences and we bring that into the debate. I really feel that we made meaningful contributions," Mrs Coote told the Otago Daily Times in October.
Their roles and participation at council’s meeting was put at risk at the beginning of this term, when the new mayor Nobby Clark proposed a new structure which would have them appointed to community wellbeing and infrastructure committees, with voting and speaking rights, but they would not sit on or take part in debates at full council meetings.
However, his proposal failed when the majority of elected members believed while they should be part of council meetings.
Mrs Cook said she hoped their relationship with the council would continue in the future.
"We hope this was the first year of the next thousands."
— Luisa Girao
Glen Thurston — Mental heath advocate
Wanaka builder Glen Thurston is walking the talk this summer, climbing Corner Peak 53 times over December and January to raise awareness for mental health.
He launched Turn the Corner, a 53-day event, to represent the average annual deaths from suicide within the construction industry since 2017.
"Suicide is everyone’s problem. We’re not mind-readers, but we can be compassionate.
"The thing that’s going to make the change is conversation, and that doesn’t cost a cent.
"I think as people, we each have a duty to our communities to be opening up these conversations and checking in," Mr Thurston said.
He is no newcomer to the world of mental health, after growing up in a family with a father who struggled from depression.
When he was 18 and 38, he found himself trying to take his own life. After a combination of burnout and heavy drinking he hit rock bottom. The second time was a fundamental turning point. He woke up the next morning and realised that for years he had used alcohol to self-medicate.
He took action that day and booked himself a GP appointment. He has also not consumed alcohol since.
This year, Glen proactively opened the conversation around mental health, and worked to make connections between support services such as Mates in Construction and trade work sites across Central Otago.
— Aspen Bruce