by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND — New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O’Sullivan thinks his Catholic upbringing lies behind his commitment to helping the poor and those in need.
Dr O’Sullivan was honoured with the New Zealander of the Year award at a gala function in Auckland on February 26.
“Having attended a Maori Catholic boarding school, I realised the importance of faith. I regained important values that I lost. Those values underpinned my work in helping those in need. I guess these comes through from the aspect of my Catholic upbringing,” he said.
Dr O’Sullivan went to Hato Petera College, which he said was a real turning point in his life. “As a young Maori man, there were times when I lost focus and the values I had been taught were a struggle to maintain,” he said.
He said the award is a real honour for him. “It is a vote of confidence to continue our work. The real advantage is it will bring our issues to a wider audience,” he added.
Dr O’Sullivan said bringing healthcare to the disadvantaged requires “people who can champion and act as advocates”.
“I would like to inspire the next generation of doctors and healthcare professionals to take on this role. I do teach medical students. I have a commitment to teach new doctors to help in communities such as ours,” he said.
Dr O’Sullivan said it will be worth it for the government to look at new models of healthcare for the people. “I am really keen to continue and build on what we already started. I am really keen on exploring other innovative ways of providing healthcare,” he said.
Among Dr O’Sullivan’s innovative healthcare solutions is the low-cost health clinic Te Kohanga Whakaora (The Nest of Wellness), which he established with his wife Tracy. The clinic makes basic healthcare accessible for people in the Far North.
“I see people on a daily basis who can’t afford to see me, who can’t afford to pay for their medications. We have emergency prescription funds donated to our clinic from New Zealanders around the country who heard about us,” he said.
Dr O’Sullivan also set up the Manawa Ora Korokoro Ora (Moko) programme, Northland’s first fulltime, school-based health clinic, providing medical care to 2000 children across the region, as well as the Kainga Ora (Well Home) initiative, which promotes the idea of fixing rundown homes, as wellness begins in safe warm homes.
“I was sitting in my office one day and I thought, this was ludicrous. I’m treating a child with asthma and I’m sending him home to a house that’s cold, damp and overcrowded. There’s no medical solution there,” he said.
Dr O’Sullivan also said there is a need to put more interventions in schools where these children are going to be.