Ōpōtiki residents protest birthing centre closure

By D'Angelo Martin

The local residents of Ōpōtiki are protesting against the closure of their only birthing centre which will be closed down for four months. The Bay of Plenty District Health Board says there are not enough midwives to keep up with demand. People will now have to drive 45 minutes to the nearest birthing unit in Whakatāne.

Longtime midwife Lisa Kelly says, "The community is not happy at all, it's not safe for our hapū māmā, who have to travel in from the coast, or any hapū māmā from here, who may have quick births."

"It's nearly two hours from Whangaparaoa Bay (Cape Runaway) to Ōpōtiki, and then it's another hour to Whakatāne. That's too long to give birth in a car," says Whakatōhea uri, Anameka Pirini.

The Ōpōtiki maternity unit closed yesterday and will re-open in March next year.

Kelly, led the protest today and says the community has been left helpless.

"We've had nothing from the DHB. We've had no actual formal notification after hours here in terms of māmā turning up to birth. If you go over there now, like in the middle of the night, there's no numbers to call for any midwives and birth was imminent."

 Mother of three, Awhina Kurei who is pregnant with another, says that she's really annoyed at the fact that now she will be having to re-plan her birthing strategy for her new child.

"Kāre noihō mātou kua rongo mai ki Whakatāne, mehemea tuatahi he wāhi mōkū, ki ōku nei whakāro ko te mea ka mahia ahau i tēnei wā, kia haere au ki tōku whare noihō, he tino hōha au mō tēnā."

Te Whānau-a-Apanui council member, Louis Tapihana, expressed his doubts that the Health Board's contingency plan will be effective.

"Ko ngā āwangawanga, ko ngā māmā, ko ngā kaumātua, ko ngā rangatahi, e māuiui ana kāre he hauora mō rātou, ko te kī a te pōari hauora nā Hātō Hone e tiaki i te hāpori. Kei hea rā te utu o Hātō Hone ki te whakakīkī i ō rātou waka tūroro."

Kelly concludes, "We will continue to fight, there is a petition online through change.org to save the birthing unit and the closures close to 4000 signatures already we plan to present that at Parliament.”