Ending mobile testing clinics could increase disparities in rural communities

By Jessica Tyson

The Government’s decision to end mobile testing could increase disparities in rural communities says the chief executive of Te Puna Ora o Mataatua, Chris Tooley.

Te Puna Ora o Mataatua is a health, medical, social and employment provider based in Whakatāne and has been running a mobile testing unit in the Eastern Bay of Plenty community for COVID-19 for weeks.

Tooley says their contract for the mobile testing unit would end on June 30, but ending it would result in “going to go back to status quo” and getting the same disengagement from Māori that occurred in the past.

“We’re currently delivering testing sites still around the Eastern Bay at the moment. That includes strep throat vaccines as well on top of testing," he says.

During a four hour working day, their mobile clinic can get anywhere between 80 and 100 cars driving through.

“When you think that it takes at least 20 to 30 minutes per car to get their clinical needs, to get their Whānau Ora needs, to get all their employment assessments done, we have a drive-through system with four lanes going at any one time.”

Tooley says the model is important for whānau in rural communities who don’t have access to transport.

“When you think about that in the middle of Tahuna for example, Waimana or Mangonui it’s huge. There hasn’t been those kinds of gatherings anywhere in those types of communities except when there’s a big tangihanga or a launch of a local kōhanga. So that’s the kind of magnitude that his service is providing.”

He says another example of rural communities missing out is meals on wheels, "a big service in urban centres but it’s not available in rural communities".

“So we take away all those kinds of indirect supports that the mobile clinic was able to mobilise, at the same time, you’re just going to get a huge disparity between Māori and rural isolated clinics and what’s actually happening in urban centres.”

Tooley says the projected unemployment rate of 60 per cent is going to exacerbate all the kind of social and medical concerns that each whānau has, so he is keen to continue the mobility concept until at least the end of June.

“It’s really important that we’ve now learned that it’s creating access into our communities."

Tooley says he is working with the Ministry of Health and the District Health Boards to continue the mobile clinics.