Open Letter from Shelley Payne MNZM, IHC New Zealand Life Member and former Board Member
Dear Paula Tesoriero, NZ Herald, Dr Shane Reti, Hon Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Golriz Ghahraman and fellow members of IHC New Zealand,
I feel compelled to write this letter in response to Whaikaha’s complainants’ review that was intentionally published in the NZ Herald on the morning of 27 October, the day of IHC’s AGM.
I am the parent of a now-deceased intellectually disabled son. I engaged with the local branch of IHC in 1993 to research support options for him, and duly became a member of the IHC National Council, which represented over 60 branches at that time.
Our son moved into an IHC residential service in his early twenties, and with trust, goodwill and patience, his support tribe grew to include caring and dedicated staff. Nine years later, he was hospitalised after a leg injury that he should have recovered from. His death occurred after a litany of systemic failures in hospital – not all were of the hospital’s making. They were a result of underfunding by the Ministry of Health.
I served on the IHC Board of Directors from 2003 to 2018. During my tenure, we experienced the changing emphasis toward risk and safety management of every aspect of the business. By its very nature, a disability service has many huge and unpredictable risks associated with almost every element of care, from physical safety and environmental issues to everyday protocols like feeding to avoid choking, bathing, volatile violent behaviours, medication management and so forth. There was no extra government funding to account for those extra layers of vigilance in an already underfunded, understaffed and complex service.
Hands-on staff, who are often not highly skilled, suffer the usual stresses including managing staff shortages, and make mistakes whether protocols are in place or not. They are made accountable for every accident, incident or misdemeanour that impacts on the wellbeing of the people they support. So, too, are their managers and the managers above them. To claim that serious complaints are not responded to at every level of IHC and IDEA Services management, and their Boards when appropriate, is very short of the truth.
I have been privy to countless hours of discussions, consultations and review processes to address the concerns of repeat complainants. I have also witnessed the same intransigent complainants being hellbent on bringing IHC and IDEA Services, the chief executive and the Board to their knees by pursuing irrational, vindictive vendettas that have served nobody well.
The ability for serial complainants to choose an alternative provider is the intelligent option, rather than adopting a destructive scorched-earth approach towards IHC and IDEA Services.
The public vilification of a highly competent, long-serving chief executive and Board Chair has conveniently, and cynically, become the disingenuous approach by a government ministry that is actually failing all of us.
By gaslighting families and people with intellectual disability, in leading them to believe that service providers are generously funded and able to offer everything desirable to ‘enable a good life’, is unconscionable.
When it becomes evident to families that the ideology cannot always be implemented, and Whaikaha chooses to publicly endorse complaints of service failure and spuriously lays blame in a hatchet review, I question their motives.
Without any balanced and discernible due diligence of the personalities and circumstances of those who called for the review, it chose to slam the reputation of IHC and IDEA Services at the behest of a small number of unnamed malcontents. No one should expect anyone to withstand the constant barrage of abuse and insinuations made with wilful disregard for the truth and expect the recipient to passively accept those assaults ad infinitum.
IDEA Services does not get everything right. It’s a large organisation and does receive its fair share of complaints, but this report had as many, if not more, recommendations for Whaikaha as IDEA Services – a matter largely ignored in Whaikaha’s comments in the media.
Whaikaha should exist to uplift and enhance lives, and that includes supporting rather than publicly undermining the deeply committed people who serve, and use, IHC’s services.
IHC and IDEA Services’ strong and stable fiscal position today, is directly attributable to the present chief executive, the executive group and IHC’s governing body. It is not funded to be able to offer a custom-designed service for every intellectually disabled client. IDEA Services has rationalised that the quality of services it does provide takes priority.
After the publication of an inflammatory one-sided review, the present IHC executive group, along with an enviably astute Board of Directors, all IHC and IDEA Services staff and 95 percent of IHC families, can feel rightfully angry and let down that they have been excoriated by the new ‘Ministry of Disabled People’ in an attempt to assuage the issues of a few. If Whaikaha genuinely values highly experienced and skilled people working in the disability sector, they need to be wary of the actions and outcomes they have just endorsed.
Shelley Payne MNZM