House opponents labelled ‘zealots’

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
An Otago regional councillor has labelled public health officials "zealots" for their objection to a Ronald McDonald House in Dunedin.

Cr Michael Laws is imploring the Southern District Health Board commissioners and managers to reject the advice of its public health staff and accept an offer from McDonald’s to establish a Ronald McDonald house in the city.

In 2008, Cr Laws’ daughter, Lucy, was diagnosed with cancer and associated illnesses, when she was 3 years old, and spent a considerable amount of time in the Ronald McDonald House at Starship Hospital in Auckland.

"Our whole family was affected. Lucy was whisked away to Auckland and knowing that we had free accommodation, a safe haven and a supportive network of caring strangers was just critical."

Cr Laws said his family’s personal experience of the facility was that it offered devastated and distressed families an oasis during a time of crisis.

"The public health advisers are promoting zealotry, not public health. Their advice to reject such a facility — not just for Dunedin but for the whole Otago region — is both wrong and inhumane."

There was no noticeable McDonald’s branding at the facility, he said.

"Instead there was, and continues to be, a supportive network of professional people dedicated to assisting your family."

Common sense and compassion should guide the SDHB’s decision, not politically correct zealots, he said.

Public Health Association Otago-Southland branch chairwoman Mary-Ann McKibben said she wanted to make it clear the organisation was not against a facility like the Ronald McDonald House, just the association with a fast-food giant.

If the Otago community felt strongly about having a similar facility, it should get behind a fundraising effort so it did not have to rely on money and branding from McDonald’s, she said.

"The research evidence tells us if we want to tackle the obesity crisis we are facing and ensure our children have healthy futures, then we need to create an environment that’s sending out healthy messages."

McDonald’s branding on a health facility sent out the wrong message, Mrs McKibben said.

Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said the provision of whanau and family facilities would be fully considered as a part of the Dunedin Hospital rebuild. No proposals from any charities or sponsors in relation to the hospital rebuild had been received, but the SDHB would be pleased to work with partners in the interests of the Otago and Southland community, Mr Fleming said.

There was a range of possible scenarios a facility could adopt, from working with a private provider to the SDHB building its own facilities with possible opportunities for naming rights.

"I have asked the clinical leadership group associated with the rebuild planning, and the community health council, to provide us with collective advice firstly on the importance of having whanau and family spaces within or nearby the new hospital."

Advice would also be sought on the positives and negatives of external funding sources and association with other parties, which included  McDonald’s, he said.


Public health officials "zealots"? What a surprise. I'd never have guessed.

"No proposals from any charities or sponsors in relation to the hospital rebuild had been received" No, but obviously the publicity band is in full flow and this company has the money to do. Why don't Macdonalds just drop their name and simply fund it? A good question.