Ru­ral health body shelved

The Southland Times - - WEATHER - GERALD PIDDOCK

Ru­ral Health Al­liance Aotearoa New Zealand will be put into ‘‘hi­ber­na­tion’’ by its board af­ter the gov­ern­ment re­jected a re­quest for core fund­ing.

The board came to the de­ci­sion af­ter it held an emer­gency meet­ing on Fri­day.

RHAANZ re­quested $600,000 in fund­ing to help keep the or­gan­i­sa­tion afloat, but af­ter a ‘‘ro­bust’’ dis­cus­sion with Min­is­ter of Ru­ral Com­mu­ni­ties Damien O’Con­nor, chief ex­ec­u­tive Michelle Thomp­son was un­able to con­firm if the money would come through. The RHAANZ would ful­fil its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions up un­til June 1 and Thomp­son said her role would be dis­es­tab­lished at the end of this week . ‘‘It’s very, very dis­ap­point­ing.’’ Putting the RHAANZ into a dor­mant state meant it re­mained a le­gal en­tity and could re-es­tab­lish it­self if the fund­ing was found, Thomp­son said.

Thomp­son said the fund­ing short­fall was bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing for an or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to the health and well be­ing of ru­ral peo­ple.

‘‘We think our fi­nan­cial predica­ment is re­ally sym­bolic of the gen­eral un­der­fund­ing of ru­ral health ser­vices and we’re now in an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion – our fu­ture hangs in the bal­ance.’’

RHAANZ acts as an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion for ru­ral health in New Zealand.

It is a regis­tered char­ity and ac­cord­ing to its an­nual report, mem­ber­ship levies and gov­ern­ment fund­ing are its main sources of cash and re­sources.

The gov­ern­ment fund­ing it re­ceived came from grants for spe­cific projects that RHAANZ had ten­dered, such as men­tal health.

Thomp­son said the de­ci­sion ap­peared to be at odds with the elec­tion prom­ises of Labour and New Zealand First.

‘‘They cam­paigned re­ally hard to ad­dress eq­uity of ac­cess of health ser­vices for ru­ral peo­ple.’’

Thomp­son said they had good re­la­tion­ships with par­ties on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide.

Be­fore last year’s elec­tion, Thomp­son said they had ver­bal sup­port from Na­tional that the fund­ing would be ap­proved if they were still in gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter the change of gov­ern­ment, they waited a few months to let the new gov­ern­ment bed in be­fore putting the fund­ing pro­posal for­ward.

‘‘Damien O’Con­nor said he was sup­port­ive, he did want to carry on con­ver­sa­tions with us and look at ways of help­ing us with our sus­tain­abil­ity but it wouldn’t hap­pen overnight and there was no guar­an­tee of the time­frame.‘‘

Thomp­son said she was told that while the RHAANZ was im­por­tant, the gov­ern­ment had other, higher pri­or­i­ties to fund first.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers pres­i­dent and RHAANZ ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber Katie Milne said the de­ci­sion was dis­ap­point­ing.

‘‘It’s pretty frus­trat­ing. This is some­thing that was fo­cused on ru­ral New Zealan­ders and their health and it needed that base fund­ing to help it sur­vive be­cause they are do­ing ev­ery­thing on a shoe­string and vol­un­tar­ily and that’s never sus­tain­able.’’

Michelle Thomp­son

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