Rotary volunteers helping in a retirement village affected by Covid raise the alarm

Princess Alexandra's retirement village in Napier saw a spike in Covid cases last week.


Princess Alexandra’s retirement village in Napier saw a spike in Covid cases last week.

A Napier retirement village has used members of a local Rotary club as volunteers at a compound where Covid is rampant, raising concerns from a resident’s family and Gray Power.

On Friday, members of the Rotary Ahuriri Sunrise club received an email from their president, saying the club had responded to “a reasonably urgent request” from Ryman Healthcare’s Princess Alexandra Retirement Village for volunteer assistance.

The retirement village, which has 139 beds and provides dementia care, nursing home care, geriatric and medical care, has been hit hard by Covid, says the email, which was also sent to the director of the retirement village.

Many residents and staff have Covid and “the team needs help caring for their residents over the next few weeks to help them get through this,” the email said.

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He asked for volunteers to volunteer an hour or two to help deliver meals, feed residents, make beds, “organize residents with clothes, books, phones, etc., sit and talk to residents, etc. “.

Richard Umbers, CEO of Ryman Healthcare.  (File photo)


Richard Umbers, CEO of Ryman Healthcare. (File photo)

No toilet, shower or dressing would be required unless the volunteer is a trained caregiver, the email states.

Anyone interested in volunteering must be fully vaccinated and have recently had Covid.

Volunteers would be provided with personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, sanitizer and gowns if needed. They may also be required to do a rapid antigen test.

A family member of one of the residents, who asked not to be named, said he was stunned that such a request had been made.

“Here you have a business that made $255 million in profit last fiscal year asking vulnerable seniors to volunteer at a compound where Covid is rampant.”

In May, Ryman Healthcare reported audited underlying earnings of $255 million for the full year. Group chief executive Richard Umbers said at the time that he was “optimistic. Covid is now in the rear view mirror and living with Covid is the new normal”.


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When the crisis began, “many people saw the retirement industry as a place to go to catch Covid,” Umbers said, but Ryman’s efforts to keep the virus out of its facilities meant investigations were now among the highest they have seen.

Gray Power Federation National Vice President Pete Matcham said the situation was concerning as service club members and seniors in general had “a high level of concern for others and a willingness to help those who are worse off than them”.

“They are also the group most at risk of serious complications from Covid, even when already vaccinated,” he said.

Ryman and all other companies in New Zealand had two years to plan for the expansion of nursing and home support staff, Matcham said, so rely on voluntary community support rather than making adequate arrangements that would result in a increase in costs was “unacceptable”.

Ryman communications manager David King said the call for volunteers came from a staff member in the village, who was also a Rotary member, after the facility experienced a spike in cases of Covid and 40 staff, “which is a significant number”.

“We flew in some extra help from our Ryman team and called the [Hawke’s Bay] DHB for assistance on care shifts as well and we were overwhelmed with help. It was amazing,” he said.

Three Rotary members volunteered to help “with dishes and cups of tea” and it was much appreciated, he said.

“The village is going through the worst, from 90 cases at its peak we have fallen to 15, and they are recovering well from isolation. We’re almost back to normal,” King said.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said it was not unusual to have volunteers in aged care settings.

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