"If there is a fire, throw yourself out of your wheelchair, and crawl outside”

By Heta Gardiner

“If there is a fire, throw yourself out of your wheelchair, and crawl outside” that is what agencies responsible for the care of wheelchair-bound and blind Sarndra Tamepo allegedly told her to do in case of a fire.

Tamepo's leg was amputated last year, which left her needing a wheelchair for mobility.  She is also visually impaired as a result of diabetes.  Her condition meant she had to leave her state house and find a more suitable address.

Tamepo claims the practice supervisor for the community occupational therapist attached to Auckland City Hospital put her in a home with no ramps, leaving her unable to leave her house for six weeks.

The situation immediately raised alarm bells for the 54 year old.   

“My next most obvious question was, 'what happens if there is a fire?'  And she said, her words, quote, "In the unlikely event of a fire, you will have to throw yourself out of a chair and crawl outside”’.

Housing New Zealand responded to a request by Te Ao Māori News for an interview with a written statement attributed to Area Manager Vanya Vitasovich.

The statement read, “Housing New Zealand has been working closely with our tenant Sarndra Tamepo to help find her suitable housing.  This is determined by Occupational Therapists who are the experts, not Housing New Zealand.”

The statement continued, “From the latest assessment we understand that Sarndra needs other modifications to help her live more safely and comfortably and these are not possible at this property so we are vigorously searching for a better place for her”.

The Auckland District Health Board also responded to a request for an interview in the form of a written statement.   

"We have great sympathy for Sarndra and her journey and were sorry to hear her feedback.  We have received a complaint from Sarndra which we are investigating and are communicating with her throughout the process. 

"We are not in a position to comment further while we are still investigating."