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Access to phones vital for mental health workers

Donna using the phone. Supplied images.

For mental health providers supporting our community through lockdown, having access to a phone is vital. Having access to a smartphone, however, opens up a whole new way to connect.

Community mental health provider Te Puna Hauora Ki Uta Ki Tai knows just how valuable a simple upgrade in phones is for not only its team, but its hundreds of clients seeking help.

Recent funding received through the Rapid Response Fund has allowed the not-for-profit organisation to purchase 18 smartphones - one for each of its practitioners.

Their dedicated team of experienced and qualified health professionals include registered mental health nurses, social workers, counsellors and whānau therapists.

The community group provides a range of services within the Western Bay of Plenty, including clinical, cultural and social support for whānau. Although there is a specific focus on kaupapa Māori, and servicing Māori, their services are open to all.

Te Puna Hauora Managing Director Cindy Mokomoko says the switch to smartphones has made a significant difference in how they support clients, many of whom had been missing not seeing their key support worker.

“All our staff have been working from home and are continuously checking in on their clients by phone. Our previous phones were nine years old and basic, with no access to video calling or any such digital access.

“Observing body language is a big part of assessing a client with mental illness. The smartphones allow our team to do this, and also alleviate some of the isolation clients are experiencing—giving a feeling of connectedness in these trying times.”

Te Puna Hauora has seen a significant increase in new referrals and calls since the lockdown; from those experiencing high anxiety and depression, to those struggling with loss of income, or difficulty coping with the isolation and lack of physical engagement with the community and social supports.

While they have been open as usual during the week, from 8 am to 5 pm, Te Puna Hauora has been taking many calls outside of hours.

Social Worker Zola Griffiths.

New referrals are triaged through the Managing Director who has extensive years of experience and qualifications in mental health and then triaged to one of two senior mental health Registered Nurses who are on call over the lockdown period.

The Registered Nurse then carries out a phone assessment and includes appropriate others as assessed, whether that be whānau, the Psychiatrist, Crises Team, NZ Police, and other internal and external organisations.

Their team have been checking in on clients and whānau regularly, coordinating supports when needed, providing strategies for de-escalation or anxieties, or just being there as a sounding board.

Social Worker Zola Griffiths says having access to more information at their fingertips has made their lives easier, and has allowed clients to be more engaged.

Another staff member Joe Canton says being able to video call clients so they can see who they are talking with is a big help by creating a more face to face comfortable conversation.

“In one of the calls, when the client could see my children running around in the background because of having to work from home, they became more relaxed and talked a lot more about their issues than I have ever heard before. In my opinion, there seemed to be a breakdown in barriers because the client and I were able to see each other.”

Cindy says the group are appreciative of the $4,842 in funding they received through the Rapid Response Fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council.

“It’s not always easy getting this kind of funding quickly, especially when so many community groups and service providers are in the same boat facing increased demand. We appreciate our local funders working together to help us adapt to support our community.”

For those in the community struggling with mental health issues, please reach out for support. You can contact Te Puna Hauora on 075718024 or the Crisis Team on 0800 800 508.

To learn more about Te Puna Hauora, visit https://www.tepunahauorabop.co.nz/.

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