HealthCare NZ job cuts symptom of deeper crisis in support sector

Public Service Association members have now spent weeks campaigning against over 200 proposed job cuts at HealthCare New Zealand, a subsidiary of NZ Health Group, alongside hundreds of workers and community members up and down the country.

Union members are concerned that an operating model which makes life difficult for staff and clients at another NZ Health Group subsidiary is being exported to HealthCare NZ, regardless of its suitability.

NZ Health Group has multiple subsidiary companies delivering home support, two of which are HCNZ and Geneva. HCNZ is the country’s largest provider of home care and support with about 8000 staff.

In 2017 it purchased smaller Auckland-based competitor Geneva Healthcare for $51.9 million. Less than a year later, Josephine Gagan – the founder and Chief Executive of Geneva Healthcare – became Group Chief Executive of NZ Health Group, the umbrella organisation of which both HCNZ and Geneva are a part.

Geneva Healthcare employees have complained for years about understaffing, insufficient resources for client care, and the outsourcing of rostering and schedules to faceless mobile apps and call centres.

“We believe NZ Health Group are trying to take the same operating model workers struggle with at Geneva and impose it on HealthCare NZ employees, without investigating if it could even work on the ground,” says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.

“Coordinators and service delivery managers already have huge workloads, and if the proposed cutbacks go ahead and leave regional offices gutted, we are deeply worried about the negative impact this will have on clients and their families.”

Hundreds of workers, clients and community stakeholders have contacted the PSA in recent weeks to share their concerns about proposed job cuts, with many saying they will leave the company if the proposal goes ahead.

A recurring theme in messages received by the union was that HealthCare NZ currently has excellent links to local communities, with local staff able to deploy in depth knowledge of individual client needs alongside their expertise in local geography and conditions.

By contrast, many vulnerable clients have already experienced difficult challenges dealing with remote call centres.

“It’s not too late for the company to pull back from the brink and minimise the harm they cause, but some damage has already been done,” says Ms Davies.

“The proposed job cuts have led to a devastating breakdown in trust between staff and senior management, and we know some funders are now putting on hold or delaying referrals to HealthCare NZ.”

HealthCare NZ has traditionally had more staff per client than other companies in the sector, enabling greater attention to care.

By contrast, staff at Geneva and other competitors are forced to support up to twice the number of clients with a comparable number of staff.

“When supporting vulnerable and disabled people to live a more independent life, there is no one size fits all approach. The regions are not Auckland, and every client is unique, not just a number,” says Ms Davies.

“This government has repeatedly said it supports regional employment and a healthcare system that delivers for everyone. We call on the company leadership, funding providers and all other parties to sit around a table and cooperatively figure out a path towards HealthCare NZ being the best it can be. We can do this without slashing and burning local jobs.”

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