Te Arawa Covid response call-centre trailblazing

By Herewini Waikato

The Te Arawa Lakes Call Centre has been in operation for just one week and it’s already receiving up to 300 calls a day between the team of 40.

Its job is to help those in need book their vaccination appointments and answer any non-clinical questions.  

Te Arawa Lakes Call Centre manager Laurie Watt is excited and amazed that this Te Arawa Lakes Trust and Te Arawa Covid Response dream of their own call centre from last year has come to fruition.

“Now we are able to connect with our whānau. This vision has now come to reality,” a happy Watt says.

Facilitated by Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the contact centre is being delivered in partnership with Whakarongorau Aotearoa. Whakarongorau Aotearoa runs the National Telehealth Service for the Ministry of Health including Healthline, the Covid Vaccination Healthline and other Covid support services.

Intense training started last Monday for these 40 new staff, who are mostly from Te Arawa. The training lasted three days and, after that, they had to be ready due to the high volume of calls from around the country.

The team has come from all walks of life such as whānau member Kuini Huriwai-Tahuriorangi. The Ngāti Pikiao descendant said, “Why I wanted to come here is because of that monster Covid-19 out there. I really want to help and inform others.

‘She was from home and I got to āwhi and help her’

Watt believes that, as an iwi-led initiative and being community-based from Te Puia in Rotorua, these people are able to connect and relate more with whānau Māori around the country, especially their own in Te Arawa, and put them at ease in challenging times.

She recalled the satisfaction of the job by one of the team members who called out to her: “Aunty, I got to talk with somebody from Rotorua and she was from home and I got to āwhi and help her and be able to book her in for her vaccination.”

Figures show Māori make up one of the least vaccinated groups in New Zealand.

Some are saying if Māori-driven initiatives like this one had started earlier, Māori vaccination numbers would be higher.

When Te Ao Mārama put this to Watt, she said, “If the government had been able to work alongside us from the start and have a look at the initiatives that we had or have and be able to work alongside us, I do feel our numbers, our percentage of Māori being vaccinated, would have been higher than it is today.”

  • If anyone needs to contact the Te Arawa Lakes Call Centre for inquires about Covid support, it is open 8 am to 8 pm, five days a week. It can be reached on 0800 282926, The Covid Vaccination Healthline.