The trio - physiotherapist Kelly Reynolds and occupational therapists Arul Hamill and Nicole McGrath arrived on Saturday of last week and have been busy providing service to individuals with disabilities and their families.
A non-government organisation (NGO), Te Vaerua runs a rehabilitation unit in the Cook Islands. Established in 2007, the NGO uses a multi-disciplinary approach, in a bid to cater to all people with health issues disabilities and their families.
It relies on the medical expertise of a range of health personnel, including physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, general practitioners and local nurses.
Te Vaerua Rehabilitation Clinical Leader Donna Smith says the service caters to all ages.
“That’s whether they have had an accident, have a disability or just have issues with completing tasks in everyday life.”
The three visiting volunteers paid their own air fares.
Smith says Hamill has visited the island annually for 14 years, while Reynolds has been visiting for three years. However it is McGrath’s first official visit.
The three girls understand the size and complexity of Smith’s job and say it has helped motivate them to visit Rarotonga and Te Vaerua Rehabilitation Service every year.
“While we are here we discuss how well Te Vaerua centre is doing, as they can only do so much within their capacity. It is a really big job when you consider it includes the outer islands,” Hamill said.
Te Vaerua works mostly with people who have had strokes and need rehabilitation.
The organisation has just two therapists, who focus on clients with strokes and those in rehabilitation,
“So when the girls visit, we really try incorporate the children, targeting babies.” Smith said.
Limited staff and resources are a continuing problem for the service and the visitors are doing all they can to help.
“We look at ways that Donna and the team here can successfully do their job within the capacity they have. It can be overwhelming to have so little staff and so many people to attend to, but we just have to make do with what is available.” said Hamill.
The team at Te Vaerua believe their services are for the community and about the community, and they focus their programmes and approaches around what they have learned from the community. They also make use of what they have gained from interacting with patients, and by understanding what works and what doesn’t.
“Disability is not owned by a health service or a provider, but is owned by a community. So we look at how the community can help people that have limitations in access or struggle being able to do things by themselves. We build a capacity for the community to support people with disabilities.” Reynolds said.
One of the strategies we are supporting Donna (Smith) with, is implementing ‘best practice’.”
“One of the principles around ‘best practice’ is team work. Working together with our different specialties means we can be much more effective and have better outcomes.
Reynolds says another principle is early intervention which involves helping clients early in the stage of their condition.
“If it’s a baby, we are more effective if we work on things straight away, rather than letting them develop and establish distinct ways of behaving.
“If it is someone who has had a stroke or an adult who has suffered an injury, early intervention means working early in the early stages of their condition,” Reynolds said. Hamill commends Smith on her efforts, which she describes as “outstanding and her skills at helping those with disabilities.
Looking to the future, Te Vaerua hope to develop an ability to focus more on early intervention. For this to happen, they will need better resources. However, their priorities are and will remain the children.
“We want to support them here in the Cook Islands, so that we may prevent them having to pack up and move somewhere, where they think there is greater support and help for their child’s needs,” Smith said.
“If we can help them while they are young, it is going to be less of an issue as they get older.”