Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: Dying dad pleaded for food for family, called Auckland councillor for help

A young Auckland father who died with Covid this week called a city councillor from his hospital bed asking for help to feed his family.

Auckland councillor Josephine Bartley said the father-of-one rang her a week after being admitted to hospital at the beginning of March.

He was struggling to breathe as he relayed his concerns that his wife, young child and a cousin who lived with them had no food at home.

“They were caught off guard with him having to go to hospital so he rang me, couldn’t hardly breathe, worried that the family had no food.”

Bartley was volunteering at Vinnies at the time and asked the manager if she could drop off a food parcel off on their door step the next day.

Yesterday, the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward councillor was shocked to learn the young man had died from Covid-19 – the same day the country recorded its darkest day with 34 Covid-related deaths.

Bartley said the man’s family was absolutely devastated.

It had also been embarrassing for the family that the husband had even had to reach out for a food parcel, she said.

“They are struggling. They are one of the families in our communities that are really struggling. I’ve delivered food parcels to them before, that’s why he knew he could reach out to me and I would get them food.”

Bartley said they were not the only family in the community struggling to put food on the table – but this was the first time she actually knew someone who had died from the virus.

It was not unusual for people in her community to contact her for help with food and housing and she tried to do what she could.

“People Facebook message me for food. They don’t ring (the helpline) and that’s all part of serving your community. That’s how I look at it anyway.”

The daily queue of Kiwis needing welfare after being hit by Covid-19 sits at about 3000 a day and officials fear that demand will continue for several weeks.

Just last week, the government announced $140 million for Māori and Pasifika health providers to help those communities hit the hardest in the current Covid outbreak.

Pacific health providers had been instrumental in helping Pasifika families throughout the Covid outbreaks; particularly the current wave that started last year.

Māori health providers had done the same for the Māori community and had helped get vaccination rates up.

At the time, Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare acknowledged how these specific health providers knew their people and their communities and therefore knew exactly how to respond and help them.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Social Development client service delivery director Graham Allpress said they were experiencing high demand for Covid-19 welfare support and were helping large numbers of people each day.

He acknowledged then that the delays were frustrating for people, but asked for patience.

However, as of last Sunday, the average call to our Covid helpline is answered in one minute and nine seconds, Allpress said.

He told the Herald yesterday: “If you or your whānau need extra help while you’re self isolating, please give us a call on our Covid-19 helpline. Wait times are very short.”

Once a person tests positive for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health will also check whether they need any support or help while isolating.

People with high-welfare needs will be connected with a local provider who is known to them or best suits their needs.

While people with lower welfare needs will be contacted by MSD staff who will get them the support needed.

The Ministry of Social Development’s regional teams also co-ordinate the welfare response with community providers, iwi, councils and government agencies

It comes as New Zealand recorded its worst day in the pandemic with a record 34 deaths, taking the country’s Covid-19 mortality rate past that of the United States for the first time.

Covid-19 modeller professor Michael Plank told RNZ he expected the death rate to continue for a few more weeks, and ultimately between 300 and 500 people to die by the end of the first Omicron wave.

University of Otago epidemiologist professor Michael Baker told the Herald yesterday New Zealand’s mortality rate was moving into the middle or upper range for a high-income country with the exception of Hong Kong, which was extremely high.

“For the first time now, our daily mortality rate has passed the United States. We won’t be in that range for very long, maybe a week or two. It’s still a shock for us.”

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said the spike in deaths was not unexpected given the wide spread of the outbreak. Some of the 34 people had died over the past 10 days and included cases where Covid was discovered after the death. The total number of people who have died from Covid-19 so far sits at 303.

The majority of people who are dying are over 70 and that older age group represented 27 of yesterday’s 34 deaths.

$349.80m Care in the Community welfare response fund

The Ministry of Social Development was charged with the Care in the Community welfare response for Kiwis impacted by Covid-19 and was armed with $204.1 million to do so from the end of November last year.

However earlier this month the fund was increased as part of planning for Omicron.

Of the fund, $8.3m has been used to establish and resource a coordinated assessment and referral function to integrate with the health responses in regions to provide locally delivered critical health and welfare needs.

$18.1m has been put towards existing cross-sector regional leadership groups while $143.9m was for critical food support for households in self-isolation, while $148.0m has been used for Community Connectors who support isolating households who have critical welfare needs.

Across the country, there are currently 500 Community Connectors contracted through to June 2023 who support the welfare needs of isolating households.

Anyone who may need help while isolating and free call the 0800 512 337 number which operates from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week. There’s also an online form that can be found on the Work and Income website.

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