Working for longer term solutions

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Alva Bennett, of Uruuruwhenua Health, talks to The News about his role at Maori health provider Uruuruwhenua Health.

Q: What does Uruuruwhenua Health (UH) do and what does your role involve?

I work predominantly with youth, from primary school age to young adults. These young people find school and life in general challenging. Our programme usually takes them outdoors, either mountain biking or kayaking. I develop a rapport from the outset and build trust and confidence which allows for frank, meaningful discussions about the issues they present with. We then try to deal with issues in a forthright way to seek longer-term resolutions. This work is in tandem with the families and caregivers (otherwise known as whanau ora). UH works with individuals/whanau in the community to improve outcomes for individuals/whanau.

Q: Tell us about the new Whanau Ora contract – what is it providing for our community?

We work within social and health paradigms. We work to enable clients to reach their full potential in all the elements, i.e. mental health, physical health, nutrition, smoking cessation, alcohol and drug issues, diabetes, weight loss, social housing, breast and cervical screening, and support clients on their cancer recovery pathways – to name a few. Whanau Ora enables us to work across the community regardless of the typical siloed funding that impedes other health and social services in our community.

Q: How has your journey led you to Uruuruwhenua Health? What is your background in the health sector and elsewhere?

I travelled extensively around the world as a young man, worked in civil construction in many countries, followed by youth work and special needs students work in Dunedin which in turn progressed to mental health work, youth justice and probation services. Now I’m fully engaged with Whanau Ora at UH.

Q: What is your vision for Maori health – why is a Maori health agency needed, and if it had more funding what else could it do?

Maori life expectancy is considerably lower than that for non-Maori. Overall mortality rates are also higher for Maori than for non-Maori at nearly all ages. Maori health status remains unequal with non-Maori across almost all chronic and infectious diseases as well as injuries, including suicide (source: Ministry of Health). When you see a statement such as this you begin to understand the lack of equity of access to health services across the spectrum. Living in a rural environment exacerbates this if you don’t have access to a car. This may explain the need to have a system that assists Maori regarding access to general health services most take for granted. If there was additional funding, obesity and diabetes would be a great start point, followed by nutrition and exercise programmes.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work, and what does the future hold for you?

I enjoy surfing, dirt bike riding, kayaking, snowboarding, mountain biking and music. I look forward to a future that enables me to continue to enjoy the great outdoors of Central Otago.