The latest Wahine Toa post by By Nancy Gilbert, wife of U.S. Ambassador Mark Gilbert.
Ranei Wineera-Parai is a change agent whose formidable community development work touches and improves lives in her home town of Porirua and its environs. Ranei has mana tangata whenua (indigenous rights) through her Ngāti Toa iwi. I had the privilege of spending a day with her recently at her marae as part of our Wahine Toa (strong women leaders) project.
Ranei grew up in a large tight-knit family with seven siblings on a papakāinga in Porirua. “Through individual date nights with each of us eight kids, my mother and dad groomed us for leadership to instill passion, organization and focus,” she reminisced.
She attended a religious private boarding school for her teenage years and then went to Australia for her ‘OE’ (overseas experience). After two years she returned to New Zealand, where she was inspired by a young and articulate Native American speaker at an Indigenous Women’s Conference. “The speaker explained that she went to law school so she could learn to advocate for her people. Three months later I was studying law at Victory University.” Five years later, the law degree proved a cogent tool for Ranei’s own advocacy work.
Ranei was destined to make an impact in the health sector. “I have been affected by and have been connected to health issues my entire life,” she began. “My parents were dedicated to improving the health and quality of life in Porirua. My mother was a Director on the District Health Board (DHB), and my parents were local primary health organization trustees. Both parents held senior leadership and management positions through their lives. I am a product of both parents.”
From the outset of her career, the results showed how well Māori traditions and knowledge benefited Māori patients when weaved into patient care. She became immersed in hospital wards and a very difficult rehabilitation process when her then-husband suffered a brain injury. “We saw that putting a Korowai (protective cloak) on patients instilled a sense of calm. I became involved in establishing a quality framework to incorporate Māori culture and terminology into hospital policy.”
Her conscious and experience raised, she helped established the first Primary Health Care Organization (PHO) in Porirua – Tumai mo te Iwi. “Working with a group of local General Practitioners, we were able to bring a collection of private organizations together to use economies of scale to leverage health services,” she says. Ranei and her team coordinated nursing and other services around the community and schools to produce better systems and programs for community health care.
To rally the community, her team forged community events to promote health and community. Many of those in need were from the Māori community. “I saw it a privilege to be Māori and be able to customize health services for our people. I understand the complexity and differing layers and meanings in peoples’ lives,” she says. “No one patient comes in alone – they bring a family. Because I grew up in this community, I understand this cultural experience.”
In 2008 Ranei was promoted to General Manager Primary Care at Compass Health when it merged with four primary health organizations. Ranei went on to establish several key initiatives. She created outreach programs for nursing and health advocacy services to meet the needs of 289,000 people and 59 medical practices across Kapiti, Porirua, Wellington and the Wairarapa. She established project management processes and a new mental health service approach.
In 2012, a unique opportunity presented itself, and Ranei seized it with gusto and optimism. “I read a request for proposal (RFP) for a social sector trial for a government funded project. I knew when I read it that I would write the proposal and if my proposal won, I would apply to lead it.”
Ranei and Compass Health successfully won the right to launch the innovative health program ‘Tumai Hauora ki Porirua’, designed to transform the cross government collaborative methods of social sector change using a holistic approach. Its aim was to support community social services offering immediate care to Porirua residents, in an effort to reduce the number of patients using hospital Emergency Department services.
The key to its success was interagency collaboration between the Ministries of Health, Education, Justice, Police, Social Development, Ngāti Toa, and Te Puni Kokiri.
The program created systems to identify those in need and to inform families about opportunities such as free dental care and subsidies for medications. “It was also about giving children a good start to life. Our services range from providing children and schools with tooth brushes or skin-care packs, to sharing interagency data to improve services,” she explained.
Her work advocating for health care reform has been officially recognized with numerous awards including: three awards from the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) for Leadership, Innovation for the Social Sector Trial, and Excellence in Community Health. The Social Sector Trial also received a Westpac Porirua Business Award.
Ranei fosters community solidarity through her grassroots healthcare work. She partners with her husband, Taku, also from Ngāti Toa and a community activist, on community projects and a blend of hosting and volunteerism at the eminent Takapuwahia marae. “The marae is part of our everyday life, and for our children. We encourage marae events to give people a sense of community,” she says. “Each year at the marae, the All Blacks rugby team learns the mana and rich history of the ‘Ka Mate’ haka made famous by my tupuna, Te Rauparaha.” ‘Ka Mate’ is embraced as an expression of national pride by all New Zealanders.
Ranei is positive about the future. “Due to the success of the Porirua Social Sector Trial, it has merged into a permanent community led work program. I will give the program with a new focus on supporting children and young people to live well, be safe and protected in Porirua,” she says. “I would like to extend my ability to contribute to our Iwi and our community and will do this by running for local politics in 2019. It all starts with family, then community then iwi. My work is not finished but I have made many connections and have a great start, and I am looking forward to a great future.”