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Thousands back call to save Nikau House in Nelson

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF Nikau House supporters pictured from left Steven Zindel, Jenna Stallard, Rachel Boyack, Josh Gardner, Cr Kate Fulton, Anna Gage, Hilma Schieving and Dr Aaron Stallard.

petition to save Nikau House has gathered more than 2200 signatures since it was launched by a woman whose sister has used the service on a weekly basis for the last 10 years.

Nikau House staff were told at the beginning of June of the proposal to close the mental health facility which was formed more than 30 years ago and was considered “ahead of it’s time”.

The woman said her sister’s mental health had deteriorated since Nikau House closed when the country went into level 4 lockdown on March 26. It had been closed for the last three months, with the health board confirming it would re-open next Monday.

“I have seen the hive of activity, social connection and professional support on offer, I believe it is the therapeutic and social emphasis of the organisation which keeps many members going and indeed is my sister’s lifeline,” she said.

“If you take the appropriate support away, I believe the result will be more pressure on GPs and an increase of admissions to the mental health unit, which will require even more resources.”

The closure proposal mentioned transitioning clients to other existing non-government organisations, community centres and local marae.

But the woman said the responsibility of mental health should lie with the district health board.

Nelson Marlborough Health proposing to close community mental health facility Nikau House in Selwyn Place, Nelson.

Nelson Marlborough Health general manager of mental health Jane Kinsey​​ said last week that the proposed changes weren’t just about Nikau House as a facility, but about reducing duplication and strengthening services to support those with mental illness.

When Nikau House was established, Kinsey said it was “ahead of its time” and since then other community agencies had been established

One of those was mental health peer support service the White House, which is based in The Wood.

PSA organiser Hilma Schieving​ said while some people chose to attend both the White House and Nikau House, the services complemented each other and needed to co-exist.

“As people in society we have a variety of choices as to where we want to go, why can’t they?”

Schieving said the proposal didn’t reflect the sense of belonging that existed at Nikau House.

“There is no compulsion to go there, people choose to, it is their choice, it is their community.”

Schieving said Nikau House was a great example of the intersection between primary and secondary care, it had a strong focus on reducing dependency on acute secondary services.

The innovative service had evolved over the last 30 years and was now more relevant than ever.

“It is one of the best examples of a community health service for people with enduring mental illness.”

Zoe Palmer, who campaigned against planned changes to the region’s specialist after-hours Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in 2018, said the proposed changes were confusing.

Employment consultant Zoe Palmer​ who helps people with disabilities or health barriers to find work said a number of her clients had experience of Nikau House.

Palmer, who campaigned against planned changes to the region’s specialist after-hours Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in 2018, said the proposal to close Nikau House was “confusing”.

“It just seems so counter-productive when our council’s long term plan says we want to be connected strongly to our social environment and the district health board’s mission statement is to enable all people to live well.”

Labour candidate Rachel Boyack​​​ said the Health and Disability System Review released on Tuesday made it clear primary and secondary health services needed to be more connected and Nikau House was an “excellent example” of that actually happening in practice.

While there was “some overlap” with other community providers like The White House, the organisations met the needs of two distinct groups of people with different needs.

“We have just been through a really difficult time, our entire community has a heightened sense of anxiety, I don’t think it is the right time to put vulnerable people through a change process.”

She planned to raise her concerns about the proposal with Health Minister David Clark​.

Nelson Marlborough Health is contacting service users to be part of the consultation. Anyone with experience of Nikau House or similar services could get in touch with Nelson Marlborough Health by email up until June 26.

Credit: Samantha Gee, Stuff

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