Plugging the measles vaccination gap

Nelson Marlborough Health is ramping up efforts to find young people in the region who may have missed out on the measles vaccine.

According to the health board’s data there are 8500 people between the ages of 15 and 30 across the Top of the South, however it’s not clear how many of them are still needing to get vaccinated for the disease.

“There are many people in that age group that missed out on those childhood vaccinations for a whole lot of different reasons,” says associate director of nursing Jill Clendon. “They have slipped through the gaps.”

So, the health board is instead advocating anyone in that age group who is unsure if they had the MMR vaccine to come in, just in case.

“We would rather have people get it than miss out,” Jills says. “If you don’t know, it’s best to get immunised. It’s safe to have an extra dose of the vaccine.”

The vaccine is free and protects and measles, mumps and rubella. Last year, 2000 Kiwis got sick from measles and 700 of them needed to be hospitalised.

The symptoms of measles start with little white spots in the mouth which develops into respiratory illness. But the consequences can be serious as it can cause swilling on the brain and other conditions that can be fatal.

“We are targeting everybody,” Jill says.

She says that measles is highly contagious. If you have one person that catches the disease they will likely spread it to 12-18 others. Covid-19, on the other hand, will only be spread to an average of two people.

Jill says we need 95 percent of people to be immune to reach ‘community immunity’, sometimes known as ‘herd immunity’ and help stop future outbreaks.

“It’s a challenge. It’s really hard to engage people in this age group. Getting them in the doors is really tough. But the vaccine is free and easy and is going to be protecting not only yourself but your mates.”

It is available at GP clinics, at pharmacies, schools and at pop up clinics around the region. Health staff will also be going into some businesses to administer the vaccine. For more information head to https://www.nmdhb.govt.nz/public-health-service/health-and-wellbeing/infectious-disease-control/mmr/

Community supporter Alister Neal with Fire Fighter Scottie Henry. Photo: Paula Hulburt

Fire fighters’ life-saving donation

A volunteer fire force has raised thousands of dollars to bring a life saving device to a rural community.

Rarangi Voluntary Rural Fire Force has put up a defibrillator outside the Beach Road station.

It means people in the immediate area can access vital treatment faster should they suffer a cardiac arrest.

Firefighter Scottie Henry says the move fills a gap in getting emergency help when every second counts.

“It’s about community resilience.

“We have one [a defibrillator] on the truck but if we’re out it’s inaccessible.

“People do pull up outside the station in an emergency and to have the defibrillator here could save someone’s life.”

The community gave generously to the call for funds which helped pay for the $4000 defibrillator, batteries and pads.

A locked box keeps the equipment safe and users need to call 111 to get the pin number to unlock it.

With about 340 households in the vicinity of the station, it’s important that help is available as soon as possible, Scottie says.

“For every minute without defibrillation, a person’s chance of survival decreases by around 10 per cent.”

The 14-strong volunteer force put a call out on Facebook for donations and then knocked on hundreds of doors around the community to secure funds.

People were delighted to take part and support the initiative, says Scottie.

“We are a community that looks after each other and if anyone, locals or tourists, need help, the defibrillator is there.

“It’s easy to see in its bright yellow case and there are instructions on it to follow.

“When you call 111 an operator will stay on the phone to talk you through what to do until help arrives,” he says.

Training people how the defibrillator works is the next step to help save lives.

“We hope that St John might help with that,” Scottie says, who revealed the Rarangi Fire Fighter Sky Tower Team 2020 had done well at last week’s challenge in Auckland.

Todd Neal came first in the Grand Master and Donned categories (carrying equipment) while James Cowie was second in his age group and in the Grand Masters.

The brigade is also starting a junior crew in the New Year.

“Five keen local teenagers have said they want to take part and we would like to see if we can get more.

“It’s a means to involve the wider community and hopefully get them keen on the idea of maybe volunteering with us later on,” Scottie says.

“We will do fire related learning including fire safety, use of our firefighting equipment and team building exercises.”

Email [email protected] for further information.

Dr Jean Simpson, Carrie Mozena, Leeson Bradley and Margaret Gibbs celebrate Warmer Healthier Homes’ 2000th insulation. Photo: Erin Bradnock.

Milestone for healthy homes

Erin Bradnock

A project dedicated to making the homes of those in the Top of the South warmer and healthier to live in has just celebrated its 2000th insulation.

Warmer Healthier Homes Nelson – Marlborough has been subsidising insulation projects in the region since 2014.

Project chairman Leeson Baldey says it’s an amazing achievement for the programme, which is administered by Absolute Energy.

“It’s 2000 families living in healthy homes.”

The project began in partnership between Rata Foundation, Nelson Tasman Housing Trust, Nelson City Council, and Nelson Marlborough DHB to address unhealthy homes in the region.

Insulating a home typically costs between $2,500 to $5000 in New Zealand.

Over 30 people gathered at the Boathouse last Thursday to celebrate the milestone.

Henry Nepia of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority says they don’t often get to celebrate the wins.

“And there’s been a lot of them over the years.”

Henry acknowledged the work still to be done, saying the authority is still getting up to a 1000 inquiries for insulations a week.

Project founder and former chairman Bill Dahlberg was instrumental in the project’s founding and success.

He says it was aimed at addressing vulnerable communities who frequented health care because of cold and damp homes.

Bill says meeting the families who receive the insulation is the best thing about the work.

“I remember I went back to one family six months later, who couldn’t believe the difference a dry house makes.”

The new station will benefit the whole community. Graphic supplied.

St John reveal plans for new ambulance station

Plans for a new state-of-the-art ambulance station have been unveiled as crews look to move from their current cramped headquarters.

A new purpose-built station on Alabama Road is set to replace the Seymour Street depot.

The move will help end traffic issues and provide a community asset for years to come, planners say.

Submitting a resource consent to Marlborough District Council, architects put forward plans which include bedrooms, study rooms, meeting and crew rooms.

“A well resourced and modern St John facility is a considerable asset to the wider community.

“The present St John’s location in Seymour Street is significantly undersized, with traffic issues as ambulances are required to back into the building,” the plans state.

St John’s have been looking for new premises for a few years and a geotechnical report was carried out on the new 5977 square metre section in 2018.

The new base would be situated on land near the Redwood Tavern. The proposed site will include two road frontages.

The owner of the land, Redwood Development, has applied to subdivide the land.

In figures supplied to council, St Johns say they dealt with an average of 12 call outs in 24 hours.

The station is staffed day and night, with staff doing 12-hour shifts. Under the proposal, all emergency vehicles would return to base via Allen Street.

“St John have already proven to be excellent neighbours on their present site and take community relations extremely seriously,” the report says.

Keeping near by neighbours happy is a top priority.

While sirens are excluded from noise standards, they would not be used until ambulances were leaving.

“Sirens are not normally used until going to an emergency so that the same residential properties are not affected all the time,” the submission states.

Road access and closer proximity to Wairau Hospital were advantages to the new site, the application stays.

“Additional traffic will be minimal. It will provide valuable support to the community into the years ahead.”

St John have been approached for comment.

The application will be heard by council before a decision is made.

Brendon Adams raises money for mental health groups. Photo: Supplied.

A driving force for health

Mental Health Awareness Week is on until 25 September Here mental health advocate Brendon Adams from Blenheim highlights his journey and why he wants to help.

 

What inspires you to help raise awareness for mental health? 

Up until 2010, I had very little appreciation or knowledge of what mental wellbeing was.  You could say I experienced an awakening.  From that moment I got to meet and talk to a wide variety of people working within our current mental health system.  From high-level psychiatrists, the many branches of social services, and the many people living with a vast array of mental health matters.  I have no doubt my 10-year experience has been my driving force and inspiration to continue to help raise awareness for mental health.

 

What have been your goals to raise awareness for wellbeing? 

I was 37 years old when I first learned anything about the topic.  I felt I could have been better equipped with some form of prior knowledge.  That’s not to say that the information wasn’t around, more so to speak to the fact that the subject was seldom spoken about.  Almost considered Taboo.  Making it ok to talk about mental health and wellbeing and being comfortable doing so would be one of my main goals.  It’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to talk about it.   To help others will always be my primary goal.

 

What are some of the main concerns our mental health systems faces? 

I guess the most obvious concern to me would be the apparent lack of resources available to cope with the demand for our mental health system.  It seems to be the poor cousin of our general health system.  It is often very hard to convince people to seek help for themselves or loved ones especially when they’ve tried and have been turned away because the problem doesn’t appear to be big enough.  This will often lead to a problem exacerbating.   Then the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff type scenario plays out and the help is often too little too late.  This seems to be prevalent with men in particular.  Men generally struggle to talk about their feelings and what’s going on for them.  They tend to bottle things up or their situation is played down.

 

What are key signs that a person may be suffering from mental health, both what to look out for in ourselves and in others? 

Signs may include the following.  Don’t want to see their friends or no longer enjoy spending time with their friends and family.  Stop doing things they used to love or don’t seem to be enjoying themselves.  Can’t remember things, concentrate, or pay attention.  Feel bad about themselves – guilty, worthless, or ashamed.  Have a big change in eating patterns or appetite.  Have extreme mood swings.  Feel hopeless or really sad, or cry a lot.  Feel anxious, stressed, nervous, or scared a lot and can’t seem to relax.  Are not happy unless they’re using drugs or alcohol.  Don’t take care of their appearance or personal hygiene.  Have physical signs of injury or that they are hurting themselves.  Have panic attacks – rapid heartbeat, unable to breathe, feeling dizzy, and extremely scared or anxious all at once.  Unsettled sleeping patterns.

 

What do you think can help people be resilient in times of adversity, including strategies for coping? 

By being mindful of the four basic cornerstones to good health, you can help yourself and others in many ways.  To start with you would want to 1. get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours a night).  2. Eat well and frequently, drink plenty of water.  3. Get plenty of exercise throughout the day.  4. Talk to someone about what’s going on.   Too often we see the signs of suffering get worse if any one of these cornerstones is compromised.

 

How can people support loved ones who suffer from mental health? 

I often have people ask me where to start when trying to get help either for themselves or for their loved ones.  The answer is never simple as everyone’s situation is different.  The good news is the increase of awareness we are now seeing as our culture shifts from this being a topic once kept in the dark to a topic bought into the light.  There seems to be more understanding and acceptance nowadays than there used to be.  Although we still have a long way to go.  Encourage an open and casual conversation with someone you think may be suffering and be prepared to listen without judgment.  Encourage belief and self-worth in someone that they can help themselves and get the monkey off their back.  Sometimes that’s all it takes and that is a good start.  Be kind and caring.

People left photos and lit candles in memory of those they have lost to mark World Suicide Awareness Day. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Shining a light on Suicide Awareness Day

Clutching photos of loved ones lost, friends and family gathered last night to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

The clock tower and fountain in Seymour Square in Blenheim were lit up in yellow for a candlelight vigil to mark the day and those affected by suicide.

About 50 people joined together and marked a minute of silence before some took the opportunity to talk briefly about their loss and honour those they have lost through suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day is held on this day each year to highlight the devastating effects of suicide, and the need to work together to support each other.

Organiser Bary Neal urged those struggling to seek help, saying loved ones left behind in the wake of such devastating loss deserved the chance to live their best lives.

“They wouldn’t want us to suffer forever,” he says.

National helplines

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Dr Nick Baker says there have been just seven cases of influenza. Photo: File.

Flu rates plummet amid Covid response

Flu rates have dropped dramatically as people take extra care to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Improved hygiene practices such as wearing masks and handwashing have helped keep flu at bay.

Increased immunisation levels mean no one has been hospitalised with flu since January across the Top of the South.

Nelson Marlborough Health chief medical officer Dr Nick Baker says there have been far fewer confirmed cases of influenza in 2020 than in 2019.

“People’s willingness to do simple things that protect them from catching and spreading Covid-19 has protected them from the flu, colds and other viruses such as gastro bugs,” he says.

In, 2019 there were 217 cases of hospital-related flu cases in the Top of the South compared to only 7 this year.

Nick says there have also been less instances of flu and flu-like illnesses in the community.

“GP-based influenza-like-illness surveillance and testing methods changed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 response.

“From the more limited amount of testing done, however, there have been no positive influenza results recorded by GPs.”

Immunisation started much earlier this year as part of the Government’s response to protect people from contracting both influenza and Covid-19.

“In the Nelson Marlborough region we also worked hard to increase immunisation uptake – especially for Māori and Pasifika, refugees, people aged 65 and older, people with existing health conditions and children with health conditions and their whānau members,” Nick says.

“We also had successful immunisation equity this year, Māori, Pasifika and refugees participated in higher-than-usual numbers.”

By July 3, more than 60,400 vaccines had been distributed for use in the Nelson Marlborough region.

This compares to 50,108 by the same time in 2019 and 46,699 by the same time in 2018.

Nurses, receptionists and administration staff picketed in Blenheim. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Health staff warn over pay gap consequences

Disgruntled medical staff are warning doctors’ surgeries could lose seasoned staff over an ongoing pay battle.

Primary Health Care Nurses (PHC) across Marlborough joined colleagues across the country in strike action on Thursday.

Staff warn the problem is set to get worse and recruitment will become a problem if pay disparity problems are not solved soon.

Gathering at Seymour Square to picket for equal pay in line with District Health Board nurses, staff say they are being paid 10.6 per cent less.

Civic Family Health practice nurse Allison Griggs says while she has the support of practice bosses, their hands are tied.

“We’re losing good nurses with lots of experience because of it.

“They’d rather work for the DHB where they get paid more.”

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says failed mediation meant the strike was inevitable.

NZNO issued a strike notice covering about 3200 Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses and receptionist/administration staff across more than 500 practices and accident/medical centres nationwide on 19 August.

NZNO union representative Daniel Marshall was at the strike.

He covers the whole of the Top of the South and says the pay gap is set to widen even further.

“There have been long standing issues over pay disparity and it’s about to be amplified as the government considers another pay rise for DHB nurses.

“It’s becoming harder to retain experienced staff and to attract new staff as the gap widens.”

Lister Court Medical reception lead Jo Ball says she had never walked off the job before.

She says she chose to strike as staff were not being fairly recognised for the work they do, especially during the pandemic.

“When we hear about front line services, reception staff are being forgotten about.

“People don’t see us as health care workers, as a nurse or a doctor, but we deal with the fallout from Covid every day.

“We want to feel valued as front line workers,” she says.

NZNO Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson says staff are not being shown how valuable their efforts are, especially during the pandemic.

“We have had enough of constantly hearing how valuable they are when absolutely no effort is being made to show that value in any tangible way.

“We need the Government to urgently do the right thing for the people who help save lives during the perilous time of a pandemic.

“That would be in the interests of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand right now.”

Hularii Mckenzie and daughter Bailey are asking Marlborough businesses to be aware of accessibility issues during Covid-19 alert levels. Photo: File.

Covid causes access issues for wheelchair users

The family of a young wheelchair user are calling for businesses to help keep vulnerable people safe during the pandemic.

Blenheim parents Hularii and Amber McKenzie are calling for local companies to be more mindful when it comes to protecting disabled customers.

The pair, whose 10-year-old daughter Bailey uses a wheelchair, say hand sanitisers and QR codes for tracking apps are often too high to reach.

“Some can’t see onto countertops or reach high up, for those wheelchair users still needing to access shops and the community a QR code lower can really help.

“This also applies to sanitiser as well, having it lower helps, if it’s high they can’t reach it or it can squirt in their face,” Amber says.

Under Alert Level 2, all shops and business are required to post QR tracking codes to be used with mobile phones or keep a written record of visitors.

But the family of seven, who are currently self-isolating as Bailey has just had surgery, believe more care needs to be taken where posters and sign-in registers are placed.

Bailey, who has a range of conditions, including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy, uses a wheelchair.

The youngster underwent double bilateral ankle surgery in Wellington earlier this month and is recovering well.

Hularii says he highlights the issue to businesses when he sees a problem.

“There was just a few I’d seen and mentioned it to the place, both here and in Wellington when we were there for surgery.

“All the places approached took it on board really well including making sure sanitiser was at a good height for wheelchair users.

“My understanding is on the back of the QR code sheet are recommendations, so they are at a height wheelchairs users can reach,” Hularii says.

The government recommendation is that the QR code sheets be placed no higher than 130cm.

Hularii says some people are displaying more than one QR code at different height levels to help.

But others people just aren’t aware of the problem,” he says.

“It doesn’t surprise me that some people aren’t aware of it.

“I always say if accessibility is not something you deal with day to day it’s easy to forget to account for because it’s not there, obvious in your face.

“Once people know they are usually very accommodating.

“Though it can be annoying for some, the disabled community can see issues and make others aware of the challenges we face.

“People don’t know what they don’t know.”

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Keyboard error sparks virus fears

Accidently hitting the wrong key on a computer sparked fears Covid-19 had returned to the region.

A Covid-19 test was accidently recorded as positive after a manual entry error.

Community Based Assessment Centre staff in Blenheim were alerted after the positive result was lodged at a laboratory in Nelson.

Staff discovered the mistake three hours later after lab staff checked the results.

The patient was not told of the positive result.

Medlab South Nelson Marlborough Clinical Microbiologist Dr Juliet Elvy says a manual entry error is to blame for the mix up.

“A manual entry error was made in recording the result for a Covid-19 test – due to a key stroke error.

“The incorrect test result was passed on to the Medical Officer of Health and that notification was withdrawn immediately after the error was detected – about three hours later.”

Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) run the labs at Nelson Hospital  and Wairau Hospitals.

All Covid-19 swabs taken by the SCL run Medlab laboratory in Marlborough are sent to Nelson after first being processed at Wairau Hospital.

Dr Elvy says the error was detected before the incorrect result was given to the person who had been tested.

Processes have been changed in the wake of the incident.

“We now have processes in place which mean we no longer rely on manual entry of test results, and all validation of manually entered tests is done by a second scientist,” she says.

The member of staff had been doing an eight-hour shift at the lab when the error occurred.

Laboratories in both Marlborough and Nelson have been swamped processing Covid-19 swabs.

Between 13 and 23 August alone, a total of 3210 tests were done in Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman, including 902 in Marlborough.

The figures come from all test providers; community-based assessment centres (CBACs), GP clinics, after-hours clinics (urgent care) and hospitals and at Port Nelson.

Dr Elvy says staff have processed 10,000 Covid-19 tests from Nelson and Marlborough.

“ …this testing has significantly ramped up since community transmission was detected in Auckland earlier this month.

“We are doing all we can to support our staff who are meeting the unprecedented demands of Covid testing,” she says.

GM Strategy, Primary & Community Cathy O’Malley says Nelson Marlborough Health has full confidence in Medlab South during this unprecedented time.