Mary Anne Gill, DHB dismissal: Reflecting on my first sacking

When Health Minister David Clark sacked the Waikato District Health Board last week he cited ongoing performance issues and “continual adverse publicity”. He has installed a comissioner, Karen Poutasi,  who has resumed the process of recruiting a new chief executive for the board. One of the victims of the sacking was Mary Anne Gill, a communications manager whose three children attended St Peter’s Catholic School in Cambridge. We asked for her thoughts, here’s what she had to say.

Mary Anne Gill: “Until we fix the system, the health and disability sector will continue to struggle”.

When you’re in the eye of a storm, you must have a ‘go to place’.

Mine is Lake Te Koo Utu in Cambridge.

It’s there I went when I got home after work on Monday 6 May. I knew the next day it was highly likely Health Minister David Clark was going to sack me from the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) after two years and 144 days.

As I watched the birds fighting for my stale slices of bread, I thought about my father who died in England unexpectedly in his sleep on Anzac Day with my mother, his wife of 66 years beside him. He was still lying in a hospital morgue, 11 days later, as I fed the birds.

The wait for a death certificate over there is shameful and adds to our family’s grief.

His last message to me via What’s App only days after Dr Clark announced he was contemplating dismissing the DHB board, was I should retain my dignity, stay calm, be gracious and strong. He worked in public service most of his working life, including a stint at an area health board, and knew the system well.

I reflected on what I would say when the media rang me as they inevitably would the next day. In fact, it was an RNZ reporter who was the first to tell me the news I was sacked 10 minutes after Dr Clark issued his press release at 12.30pm on Tuesday 7 May. (I was formally told by email the following day).

When people put themselves forward for public office like a DHB or local council, most want to make a difference in the community they live and work and for the people they call friends or neighbours.

I stood for the DHB because I am passionate about health and wellness, angry at the huge inequities that exist in our Māori, disability and rural communities and convinced the current system with its 20 DHBs and mix of elected/appointed members is not working to make health more equitable and affordable.

How can it be when your chances of getting an elective procedure or cancer treatment are better in one DHB than another or getting a GP’s appointment depends on so many variables?

So, I’ve been sacked for the first time in my life. It is no use me being bitter and twisted – I did my best, I questioned, I probed, seeking answers and solutions: “Why are our vaccination rates, particularly among Māori, lower than most other DHBs? Why are waiting times in Waikato Hospital’s emergency department so long? Why, why, why?”

It’s the system delivering these results, not the people. Until we fix the system, the health and disability sector will continue to struggle, and the deficits will not go away.

I wish Waikato DHB commissioner Karen Poutasi well. She has a big job.

At her whakatau she said:

“Nau te rourou naku te rourou. Ka ora ai te iwi.”

“With your basket and my basket. The people will flourish.”

For me life goes on. I know my father will be proud but annoyed at the “sacked board member” tag.

The birds at Lake Te Koo Utu don’t give a toss – they’re just waiting for food and as long as I’m able to get to my ‘go to place’, that’s where my stale bread will end up.

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