Rotorua is well on the way to having a New Zealand-first – if not a world-first – combination of a child health hub and a public library. FIONA CASSIE talks to Gary Lees, the director of nursing for Lakes District Health Board to find out more.
Playgrounds and literacy don’t usually go together but for Gary Lees they’ve both been uppermost in his mind lately.
The director of nursing at Lakes District Health Board is busy helping refine the design brief for the country’s first combined library and child health hub.
A need to rehouse some of Lakes DHB’s child health services kickstarted the DHB to consider not only combining those services into a single building but also to think bigger and take most paediatric outpatient services away from the hospital to a new shared space.
This idea of a hub, focused on children’s health needs, was being raised around the same time as the Rotorua City Council was contemplating a major refurbishment and earthquake strengthening of its existing central city library building.
UNICEF’S Child Friendly Cities initiative provided the impetus for the council and the library to collaborate in a proposal to create a combined library and child health hub in the refurbished library building.The council announced in September that work on the new partnership hub could be underway by July next year, with the grand opening pencilled in for November 2017.
Lees says the proposal made economic sense and child health services were also keen to relocate to a family-friendly central site away from the hospital.
The new child health hub will be home to the DHB’s paediatric outpatients’ service, child development team, child and adolescent mental health team, public health service (including the vision and hearing testing service), the dental health service management team, and management staff of the multi-government agency Children’s Team.
The aim is to promote a more child-centred, collaborative approach to child health services by having many of the services under the same roof. Lees says some of this work is already underway in Rotorua (with the Children’s Teams and the Social Sector trials) but it is hoped that the health hub will help interagency collaboration and lead to a culture change and improvement in child health outcomes across Rotorua.
Another aspect of the hub project that has major appeal to Lees and the DHB is being in partnership with the library.
“We can see some amazing connections between health and literacy information,” says Lee.
“We have already been talking about how we might be able to refer parents of children with newly diagnosed conditions [to librarians] for reliable sources of information about that illness/condition, rather than people doing Google searches and who knows what they might find.
“The library also runs a toy library, so the DHB is in consultation about the library including toys that might be therapeutic for children with some conditions.”
The plan is for the hub to have a common front entry, with access to the child health centre to the left and library facilities to the right. There will also be a single reception area for all child health services so library visitors won’t know whether a family is coming for a hearing check or a mental health consultation.” So we hope it might break down some of the possible stigma.”
The hub is focused on DHB-delivered child health services but is incorporating extra consultation rooms so invitations can be extended to other providers, such as Plunket, if they want to deliver some of their services from the hub.
What the hub will not be providing is acute primary care presentations, as that is delivered by general practice and some outpatient services, like orthopaedic, that need imaging equipment. “But we do want the centre to be the place people come if they have questions about health so we can then either refer them directly to the right service (maybe even booking an appointment) or signpost where they need to go,” says Lees.
A library is also a wonderful place for children and parents to wait by browsing a magazine, checking a computer, having a coffee or flipping through picture books. Lees says the DHB is in discussion with librarians over how to make that happen. One possibility is having the magazine section sited in the health hub’s waiting area and another is to have café style ‘buzzers’ or a text system to call families back to the hub for their appointment.
“That means they can roam freely round the library space or get a coffee from the café and get called back when it’s just time to go rather than having to sit staring at a wall.”
There will also be a separate entrance to the child health centre for families who may want privacy when they arrive or leave an appointment
As part of the redesign, the council is also looking at public transport and cycleway access to the hub and developing a new playground outside the hub that appeals to a wide range of children, including those with disabilities.