The Southland Times

SDHB exec recalls maternity uproar

- Louisa Steyl

Lisa Gestro gave birth to her second child on her lounge floor in Auckland.

This irony was never far away as the Southern District Health Board’s executive director of strategy, primary and community navigated the implementa­tion of a contentiou­s new maternity strategy for Southland and Otago.

But as her own experience had taught her, rapid births happened all over New Zealand, she said.

‘‘Primary maternity is not just about rural Southland.’’

The decision to place primary birthing units in rural communitie­s but consolidat­e specialist equipment in bigger centres drew outrage. ‘‘It certainly got the most publicity, and it motivated a lot of people,’’ she said.

Gestro, who leaves the Southern DHB this week after 3 1⁄2 years for an executive position at the Waikato District Health Board, said the strategy was bitterswee­t.

Although it would improve maternity services for rural women in the long run, she came under intense scrutiny and was subject to name-calling online. In hindsight, Gestro would have liked to have had an advisory group in northern Southland at the start of the process.

Online vitriol aside, Gestro said southerner­s had treated her and her family so kindly that it was difficult to make the decision to leave Dunedin.

She was grateful to have worked with an innovative and driven team, she said.

There was always a sense that things were never finished, she said, and the board’s current mental health services review was one example.

‘‘I feel like there’s a great sense of opportunit­y around the corner for our mental health system,’’ she said.

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