ODHB not 'heartless' to elderly

Louise Rosson
Louise Rosson
The Otago District Health Board was not a "collection of heartless bastards" abandoning the elderly, but had to stop overspending, chairman Errol Millar told yesterday's board meeting.

Service cuts would be carried out compassionately and sensibly, he said.

The Otago and Southland district health boards announced last week those getting an hour and a-half or less of housework help would get none, and would be informed by letter, with an option to appeal.

Those getting more help would be reassessed, probably by telephone, with a view to stopping the service, other than in exceptional circumstances.

However, the changes are under review this week as the boards grapple with service providers unhappy at the speed of implementation, and fears sudden cuts could be traumatic for some elderly people.

The board was not a "collection of heartless bastards" and the two boards were not "knocking support to elderly on the head", but aligning delivery with the national average, Mr Millar said.

The changes had not been well communicated.

"Sensational claims" in the media had inflamed the matter.

Mr Millar urged management to get on the "front foot" and develop a communications strategy.

Chief executive Brian Rousseau criticised the media for its reporting of the cuts. It was incorrect to say all help was being withdrawn, but rather the boards were tightening the threshold required to qualify.

Board member Louise Rosson said there were many "frightened people" in the community. She was getting "flak" and did not feel able to coherently communicate policies that seemed to be made in an "ad hoc" way.

The board is trying to reduce rest-home occupancy, at the same time as saving money on services provided in the home.

Language used in a management report referring to a "stand-down period" for those being assessed for residential care was "appallingly unfortunate".

Such wording must never be used again in relation to the elderly, she said.

Ms Rosson did not want to play a "blame game", and accepted her share of responsibility.

Mr Rousseau said previous efforts to bring Otago into line with the rest of the country had not delivered the desired result.

Otago had a higher rate of rest-home occupancy than other parts of the country.

"What is it that the rest of the country are doing that we are not doing?"

Board member Richard Thomson said the board was only following the path of other DHBs that had tightened thresholds and cut spending.

Despite this week's developments, the boards' determination to rein in the disability support services budget was unchanged. However, implementation could be different.

Officials had not developed a strategy in isolation, but worked closely with the audit, finance, and risk management committee. The board was under pressure to meet previously agreed financial targets.

Spending had to be prioritised. If there was overspending on some services, other areas missed out. A wider debate was needed on the role of family and the community in helping support the elderly.

Board member Helen Algar said it was important to remember that while some elderly had family who could support them, others' families lived overseas or in other parts of New Zealand.

Board member Louise Carr believed Otago and Southland had less in place than other regions to provide elderly with social contact.

Care packages were narrow and services were delivered in a fragmented way.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz


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