Gemma Kennedy has devoted almost her entire working career to Taihape as a leader and steward, ensuring the health needs for the community were met and access to a range of services were delivered.
Gemma trained as a Registered Nurse in Palmerston North and after a period of living overseas, returned to Taihape to settle and raise her family. Prior to being employed as the leader of Taihape Health Limited, which was established as a new business by Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) in December 2011, Gemma was employed by the then Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB – now Te Whatu Ora Whanganui) and for WRHN as the Rural Practice Facilitator. After a bit of convincing, Gemma accepted the role as Clinical Coordinator for Taihape Health Limited (THL) and has remained in that role until this time.
Gemma has seen much change over the years as services in Taihape moved from a hospital to an inpatient rural health service, then to a Community Trust and finally to a subsidiary company of WRHN. In the establishment of THL, the bulk of the health services moved into the Otaihape Trust facility (previously the rest home and prior to refurbishment it was the maternity annexe). To ensure maternity services were still accessible, the team operated out of a small wing of the Taihape Rural Health Centre. This facility had undergone a refurbishment to accommodate rest home beds and a range of community and primary health services, that for a period was owned and operated by a community trust. Operating a team of clinicians from two facilities was not easy and the overhead costs were crippling. The Board of Directors have wrestled with this issue for many years and now, together with Iwi partner Mōkai Pātea Services and owner of the facility Te Whatu Ora Whanganui, are progressing a redevelopment to move primary care and Whānau Ora services back into the Rural Health Centre, to ensure integrated and holistic health and social services flourish with the community as the centre of the model.
Waiouru has also been a community of interest for THL. Historically, Taihape and Waiouru worked as a connected health system to serve the people that were not connected to the Defence Force base and workforce. While this community has seen a significant reduction in population over the years, as the Army reduced its presence and workforce on the campus, THL has remained committed to serving this community and continues to offer midwifery services and a Doctor/Nurse clinic in Waiouru, to make access convenient for this population.
Taihape has seen its share of disruption to services due to weather events, mountain eruptions and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural communities do not have the range of ‘helping agencies’ available to support these communities, as we see available in the cities, however through forging strong and effective relationships with the emergency services and in particular the local volunteer fire brigade and Police, Gemma and the team has ensured that our most vulnerable have been cared for and have what they need in their time of need. She would rally the workforce that was available and collectively they would do what was required, whether it was delivering meals on wheels, transferring unwell patients, or just moving them to a facility where they could have a shower; given they had experienced days without power.
For a leader to flourish and deliver a consistent standard of services over many years in a small community, requires you to demonstrate courage, tenacity, kindness, a willingness to advocate for your team and be confident to innovatively change how they are working, to ensure access to services was maintained. Gemma exhibited all these qualities. For some less aware, they soon learnt that to trample over Gemma’s mana was at their own peril! Gemma has been resourceful and persistent in ensuring the Taihape Health services maintained a high standard of service for the community they serve, and the workforce was able to deliver to their potential. Maintaining a doctor workforce over the years has been challenging, but with her dogged determination, we now see a capable workforce of Doctors, Nurses, Social Work, Midwives, Kaimahi and the support team, working together to ensure people received the care they need.
Gemma has perhaps left the greatest legacy of all. She has designed an exit strategy that will ensure the transfer of leadership to a colleague from the community, who has also served her community and Iwi as significantly as Gemma. The reins are transferring to Ngawini Martin, who will operate a transition process from the leadership role she has at Mōkai Pātea Services to Taihape Health Limited. This transfer of leadership sits very comfortably with the integrated development, which will see Mōkai Pātea Services Whānau Ora workforce integrate with the Taihape Health team (in the Rural Health Centre). The intent is not to continue as we are, but to create a new way of working that focuses on the strengths both services have to offer in serving one population. Taihape has always been on the leading edge of change and this is just another example of how rural communities create their own future.
On behalf of the WRHN Chair; Ken Young and Board, the Chair of Taihape Directors; Julie Nitschke and Board, and the Integrated Development Leads; Tracey Piki Te Ora Hiroa and Jude MacDonald, we sincerely thank you Gemma for all you have given to ensure the services at Taihape Health have responded to the needs of the population. We appreciate that rural leaders have less ability to enjoy ‘quiet time’ and generally remain on call for their services, despite the day of the week or if they are on leave. We are aware of the time that you have committed to this role and wish you much peace and freedom to enjoy the next phase of your life, and new adventures no matter what they will be.