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On Wednesday, the Waitaki District Council-controlled company confirmed it had entered an agreement with Presbyterian Support Otago to prepare meals for inpatients, maternity ward patients, staff and the town’s Meals on Wheels service from Iona Enliven Care Home and Hospital, based in north Oamaru.
The agreement, effective from January 14, ended weeks of uncertainty about the future of the hospital’s kitchen.
It followed an operational review of the hospital’s kitchen service, part of a wide-ranging review of services at the hospital that was recommended as part of a joint review of health services in the district that also involved the Southern District Health Board.
Waitaki District Health Services chief executive Ruth Kibble told the Otago Daily Times on Wednesday the kitchen space would still be used for washing dishes, preparing food trolleys and for storage of food such as breakfast items and frozen meals for emergencies.
"Ultimately, this will free up some space for the hospital to utilise for further services," she said.
However, Save Our Hospital Kitchen group founder Thelma Beer said it was sad news for the community.
She said the issue had not been communicated well to the public, who she felt would now keep tabs on how the company conveyed any potential future changes.
"They are going to have to be very careful because people are going to be watching them from now on. They will have to make sure they include the community in all of their decisions. I’m afraid the decision will probably come back to haunt them in the future ... it’s not broken, so why fix it?"
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher accepted the decision had been "difficult" for the hospital board.
"Basically, they’ve been given the choice between saving money by changing where the food comes from or cutting services. On that basis, we certainly support them."
He said the "biggest downside" was the loss of six part-time staff, who filled 2.5 full-time equivalent roles.
They have been offered jobs with Presbyterian Support Otago.
Mr Kircher reiterated the need for the company to communicate any changes more openly in the future, after he criticised the board’s approach at a council meeting last month.
"I think it’s been a good indicator for the hospital ... just how they need to improve communication with the public as much as possible. While it might be a bit difficult when it involves changes to jobs, there’s definitely a lot more information they can and should be sharing, and they have taken that on board."