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Hawke's Bay DHB says getting rid of mould in homes is paying off

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Ridding homes of damp and mould is working, with the number of children needing treatment for lung conditions down by thousands, including in Hawke’s Bay.

The national Health Homes Initiative, aimed at ensuring children are living in warmer drier homes, has led to a reduction in doctor visits, medications and hospital stays, a University of Otago (Wellington) evaluation has found.

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board is one of 11 district health boards which carries out the programme. It is focused on the living conditions of pregnant women and children aged 0 to 5, particularly in low income areas where there is a high incidence of rheumatic fever.

The evaluation shows that for every 10 children referred to the programme, there were six fewer filled prescriptions, six fewer GP visits and one less child in hospital over the next year.

The findings are a strong endorsement of the benefits of the Ministry of Housing initiative, says Dr Niki Stefanogiannis, Ministry of Health deputy director of public health.

As at 31 December 2018, the programme had received 15,330 eligible referrals. The evaluation showed that the service had resulted in 1533 fewer hospitalisations; 9443 fewer GP visits; and 8784 fewer medicines for the referred children.

In Hawke’s Bay, the team has worked with more than 1000 families. With three full-time social workers, it covers Hawke’s Bay, from Takapau to Mahia.

Hawke’s Bay DHB child health team social worker Alice Peacock says the focus is on insulation, ventilation, heating, window coverings and carpet. "Although with the new regulations on insulating rentals, and the EECA-funded help available to home owners in Flaxmere and Maraenui, insulation is becoming less of a problem."

"But the mould problem is huge. We carry a mould kit (75 per cent white vinegar/25 per cent water) for getting rid of it; and put a huge emphasis on ventilation: Using your kitchen and bathroom fans if you have them; opening your windows for 20 minutes a day if you don’t."

To achieve results requires a three-prong approach: education, advocacy, and matching families up

with organisations able to supply things like heaters, curtains and bedding.

For Ms Peacock, the most rewarding part of the job is going back to a home some months after helping a family improve their living conditions, to hear that the children have not been sick all winter. "That is incredibly satisfying."

The university evaluation confirming the value of the national programme (published September 23) came just ahead of the initiative winning the Better Outcomes Award (Te Tohu mō ngā Hua E Pai Ake Ana) and the overall Prime Minister’s Award (Te Tohu a te Pirimia) 2019, at the State Service’s Commission Spirit of Service Awards last month.

Healthy Homes is spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, and has a strong focus on encouraging communities and whanau to work in a way that best suits them. The range and number of partners is broad, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Housing NZ, the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority, the Accident Compensation Corporation, Ministry of Social Development, Auckland Council, and eleven district health boards.

A family’s story:

A family living in a rural area of Hawke’s Bay was referred to the Child Healthy Housing programme. Their three children had had a number of hospital admissions for housing related respiratory conditions, including asthma and bronchiolitis. The family of five lived in an uninsulated home with no running water, no bathroom, broken and missing window glass, and no curtains and little bedding. Short term fixes were undertaken (smoke alarms installed, bedding supplied and curtain tracks and curtains installed), while investigations into repairing the property were made, the family’s preferred option. However, with no practical way to get all of the essential work done, the family agreed to move into emergency housing and then the family were supported to obtain a warm, dry Housing New Zealand property. The Healthy Homes Initiative team reports that the children’s health is much improved since moving to a warm dry home.

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