MIQ in Rotorua: Lakes DHB member says government has imposed facilities

At its last meeting before disbanding, a member of the Lakes District Health Board (DHB) took a final swipe at the government over managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), saying it was ‘imposed’ in the city.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, member of the Lakes District Health Board
Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

The government has previously said the main objective of the MIQ is to keep Covid-19 out of the community and to ensure the safety of returnees and staff, and it has taken local issues into consideration.

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DHB Lakes – along with all DHBs – will be phased out on July 1 when they merge with National Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority. The June 17 board meeting was the last.

Board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait made the comments following General Manager Nick Saville-Wood’s report to the board, which contained a list of accomplishments since Lakes DHB’s inception.

In that report, Saville-Wood said the council had undertaken the “unenviable task of managing a global pandemic.”

“Rotorua was selected to manage the isolation facilities, which also diverted significant DHB resources to staffing the three sites.

“[It was] also the highest concentration per population head of MIQs in the country.

‘These were set up and running efficiently at very short notice, which is a testament to the staff who were asked to manage them.’

The final meeting of the Lakes DHB.

The Final Lakes DHB Meeting
Photo: LDR / Felix Desmarais

At the meeting, Raukawa-Tait said she doesn’t think the impact of three managed isolation and quarantine facilities on the organization’s “resources and management time” can be underestimated.

“It was imposed on us, it was not what we wanted, we did not know that we were going to be asked to accept the establishment of three MIQs [facilities] in Rotorua.”

She said the government’s request was “essentially an executive order”.

“It falls on us. [The government] don’t realize that we still have to try and do everything else in the community, ie get our community vaccinated, do the planning for that.

“Thank goodness we haven’t taken our eyes off the ball, but in times of stress the government needs to recognize that they have just added more stress to our organization and our staff.

“Actually I think it was unfair, I think we did our best, thank God we did.”

She said the DHB had to divert hospital staff to the MIQ “at a time when we needed everyone on board”.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Ayesha Verrall, the Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs (MBIE) and the Department of Health have been approached for comment.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health has previously said that the organization is aware of the various demands made on health personnel in their contribution to the MIQ and that this has been taken into account when establishing the facilities of the MIQ.

Rotorua Hospital.

Rotorua Hospital
Photo: LDR / Felix Desmarais

Former MBIE Co-Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Megan Main had said the department had engaged with local stakeholders about managed isolation facilities and the considerations included many issues complex, such as support for operations, suitability of hotels, and proximity to hospital facilities and appropriate transportation hubs.

At the time, she said the “main objective” was to operate the MIQ in a way that ensured Covid-19 stayed out of the community and kept returnees and staff safe.

She said MBIE also considered potential impacts on housing and economic activity, including tourism.

One managed isolation hotel remains in Rotorua – the Sudima, which will resume regular operations after June 30.

One managed isolation hotel remains in Rotorua - the Sudima, which will resume regular operations after June 30.

The Sudima Hotel in Rotorua
Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

The Ibis and Rydges hotels were also managed isolation facilities before closing earlier this year. The three hotels had 535 places for returnees.

In August Local democracy reports revealed the government was investigating additional managed isolation facilities in a number of locations, including Rotorua.

At a meeting that month, the council unanimously agreed to advise MBIE – which operates managed isolation facilities – not to establish a fourth facility in the city.

Local MPs Todd McClay, Rawiri Waititi and Rotorua-based Labor List MP Tāmati Coffey pledged allegiance on the issue, opposing it with the DHB.

In September, the government decided it would establish a new facility in Christchurch, specifically excluding Rotorua, saying it was due to “MIQ health and labor constraints”.

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ on Air

Richard F. Gandhi