Leadership in Pasifika Health recognised

Trusted relationships often form the basis for provision of good healthcare. Taking the time to build those relationships within the community can pay off in many ways, from gaining knowledge to making a real difference in health outcomes. This has certainly been the case for Maria Pasene.

Maria is the Pegasus Health Pasifika Health Manager and of Niuean and Cook Island descent. She is the project lead for the Tutupu project involving health champions in Pasifika churches and facilitates the Pasifika Caucus group for the Canterbury Clinical Network (CCN). On Monday 21 May 2018 Maria was presented with an Open for Leadership Award from the Health Quality & Safety Commission New Zealand.

The Award recognises Maria’s efforts to support Pasifika health in the community through the Tutupu project by increasing the health literacy of Pasifika communities, supporting Pasifika churches to identify health champions and creating environments that support healthy choices for the congregations.

The award was presented by Sir John Hansen, Chair of Canterbury Clinical Network’s Alliance Leadership Team. He said the national award recognised Maria as a leader, specifically for her work on the Tutupu Project. He added that Maria is involved across the health system through Canterbury Clinical Network and Canterbury DHB.

“The CCN Alliance Leadership Team is painfully aware that there is still inequity in our health system and of what these inequities mean for our people. To achieve success we must achieve equity and people like you will enable us to do that.

“You’re a staunch advocate and champion for Pasifika people across our health system, but you also excel in identifying talents in others and working with them to develop these skills.

"While I was reviewing your achievements I noted that you do not seek praise or recognition - you simply get on with it - and this award is evidence that it's making a huge difference. We are so very proud of you and the contribution you make," said Sir John.

Maria is quick to point out that the project was very much a team effort. The Tutupu Project is a collaborative partnership involving Healthy Families Christchurch (Sport Canterbury), Pegasus Health (Charitable) Ltd, Canterbury District Health Board (Community and Public Health), Etu Pasifika Trust and the Rural Canterbury PHO.

Maria spent a year building on existing and creating new relationships within the Pasifika and health community in Canterbury before launching the health education sessions with the eight Pasifika churches who participated.

“I have a public health background and I knew that here in Canterbury the Pasifika community works really well collaboratively with strong relationships. Church is a key setting for Pasifika people – somewhere they gather regularly, so this would be fitting place to spread good health messages,” says Maria.

The basics of the project involved presenting churches with health topics that may be of interest to their parishioners, getting feedback from churches regarding the value of these, securing funding and then providing interested churches with access to health, sports and nutrition professionals and equipment.

Two way conversations between the project group and the churches meant programmes were adapted and extended so they would provide the most benefit. Health champions were identified within each church and they helped get the health messages across and encourage activities. Health and exercise experts visited churches to share their knowledge.

The project offered six week exercise sessions, exercise equipment and supervised games events. This inspired some churches to raise their own funds so the exercise classes could continue once sponsorship finished.

Some churches created community gardens that encouraged their congregation to grow healthy, organic and fresh vegetables. Others promoted and implemented health policies to improve nutrition, promote water as a first choice and celebrate their Smokefree status.

For many health services the Tutupu project has provided a way for health experts to connect with and support Pasifika communities. This included Oral Health, Smoking Cessation, Screen South, Active Canterbury, Healthy Lifestyles, Sports Canterbury, Diabetes Centre, Community Pharmacy and Community Respiratory Service.

Success has been measured in a variety of ways from participation numbers (just under 1000 parishioners took an active part) to personal stories of triumph. Rather than rest on her laurels however, Maria and the project team have plans to continue on with the programme and mental health is one topic currently being developed so it can be offered later this year.

Kia ‘akameitaki’ia no runga i taau i rauka - well done on your achievement Maria.

Maria with Sir John and Shelley

From left: Health Quality & Safety Commission New Zealand Deputy Chair Shelley Frost, award winner Maria Pasene and Sir John Hansen, Independent Chair of the Canterbury Clinical Network’s Alliance Leadership Team.

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