Covid 19 coronavirus: MIQ worker wrongly barred from visiting grandfather in hospital

Rotorua Hospital turned away two women who tried to visit their sick elderly relative because one of them works in MIQ.

That’s despite it contravening Lakes DHB and Ministry of Health policy which ensured MIQ workers are free to enter hospitals and other medical facilities.

Stacey Smith, a night auditor for the ibis Rotorua MIQ facility, said she and her grandmother were initially prevented from visiting Smith’s grandfather in the emergency department in December.

Smith said her grandmother was later denied twice more, on account of Smith’s occupation.

She feared her grandmother could be forced to lie the next time she went to hospital in order to see her sick husband.

Smith, who is close to her grandparents, said it had been heartbreaking not being able to support them in person as her grandfather was in and out of hospital.

“My grandparents basically raised me and it’s hard not being able to see them,” she said.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said there was no reason a MIQ worker or their whānau would be excluded from any location, including healthcare facilities that followed infection protection protocols.

A Lakes DHB spokeswoman said she could not find records of the grandfather’s December ED admission, but noted enquiries into the matter had been hampered by yesterday’s nurses strike.

Smith said her treatment by Rotorua Hospital was in addition to the public shunning she and her colleagues experienced because of their jobs.

Smith cited many interactions with members of the public who became wary when she revealed her occupation.

“People visibly step back, they don’t want to come near us. Most of us have no social life anymore.

“It’s mentally draining being isolated from people and the stigma is horrible.”

Smith, who is constantly in personal protective equipment at work, is fully vaccinated and is tested fortnightly. Given she worked night shifts, Smith had no contact with people inside the MIQ facility.

Considering the stringent health standards, Smith hoped the public would have a better understanding of how safe MIQ facilities are.

Brigadier Jim Bliss, who has just finished his six-month secondment in MIQ and would soon start as New Zealand’s defence attaché in London, expressed concern at reports of division between the public and MIQ staff.

“It’s somewhat of a frustration for me or a disappointment that when [MIQ staff] head back out into the community, that some of them carry a stigma of working in MIQ, or their kids do at their schools or their church or their sports groups,” he said.

“To be turned away from a place or to have your kids turned away from parties because your mum or dad works in MIQ is a pretty grim thing as far as I’m concerned.”

He urged people to remember the sacrifices made by MIQ staff as part of New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.

Bliss’ plea for understanding came soon after a Canterbury District Health Board survey on MIQ workers, reported by the NZ Herald, found just 26 per cent of respondents felt valued by the wider community despite being proud of their role at the border.

More than half reported being treated unfairly due to their place of work.

This included accessing health services like the dentist or attending hospital appointments.

“I cannot access my GP, I feel like people think we have the plague,” one respondent said.

“I needed to cancel my daughter’s birthday party because people didn’t want to come because I work in MIQ,” another said.

More than half of the respondents reported being treated unfairly due to their position, some by family members and neighbours, and affected making or keeping friends.

Unite union hotels organiser Shanna Reeder, who represented about 450 hotel workers at most of New Zealand’s 32 MIQ facilities, said it was no surprise MIQ workers were being shunned because of their jobs.

She referenced one woman who, in attempts to see her ill mother in hospital, was twice refused entry on account of her occupation, before she was eventually let in.

“I’m so disappointed because the work that they’re doing is amazing, they’ve kept us safe for over a year now,” Reeder said.

While she felt the stigma was lessening, Reeder suspected this was partly due to MIQ workers becoming less open about their employment.

Reeder said stigma was often based on fear or ignorance. If the public had a better understanding of hygiene requirements at MIQ facilities, it would put their concerns at ease.

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