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Waikato DHB's Under 65 Disability Support Link team - Left to right: Wendy Waugh, Susan Rogers, Hilary Coalter, Barbara Walters (Team Leader), Leanne Heke, Nellie Harris, Tema Aperehama-Tapu.

Under 65 Disability Support Link team: (left to right)  Wendy Waugh, Susan Rogers, Hilary Coalter, Barbara Walters (team leader), Leanne Heke, Nellie Harris, Tema Aperehama-Tapu.

The small, specialised Disbability Support Link (DSL) under-65 team at Waikato DHB often flies under the radar but in terms of achievements they do an exceptional job in coordinating support for younger people with long-term disabilities.

Graham Guy, manager of Waikato District Health Board’s DSL service, says their success and reputation is recognised far and wide, particularly for their creativity in terms of tailoring a package of care to individual clients.

““They have a top reputation for working really well with unusual or complex cases,” he says. “The Ministry of Health and other NASC teams will often ask them for advice.”

NASC (Needs Assessment and Service Coordination) services are Ministry of Health funded agencies, usually sitting within district health boards, that are contracted to assess and organise support for people with long term disabilities. In the Waikato, the NASC teams are part of the Disability Support Link service operated by Waikato DHB.

While many NASC clients have age-related disabilities, there are also people under 65 years old who require long term coordinated support.

That’s when the Waikato DHB’s under-65 Disability Support Link team comes in.

The team has seven staff members who specialise in coordinating the assessment and support for younger clients who may have conditions such as muscular dystrophy, motor neurone disease, stroke resulting in physical disabilities, as well as people with intellectual disability and/or autistic spectrum disorder.

The contracts the team manage include rehabilitation care in residential facilities, community supports such as personal care and home management, and respite services to give the person’s main carers a break.

The team is also responsible for managing the end-of-life palliative care contract, short-term funding service, and the medically fragile service for children.

For some time now each team member has handled a caseload of clients almost three times higher than many other NASC teams around the country. However this doesn’t stop them being highly effective.

“They do an exceptional job,” Guy says, and you can hear the admiration in his voice.

“Each member of the team is passionate about their work. The high volume of clients does not stop them seeing each one as an individual who has particular needs and a unique future. Making a positive difference to that future is their aim.”

Team leader is Barbara Walters who has worked at Disability Support Link for the past nine years. Walters comes from a nursing and social work background.

“It’s about supporting and developing a client’s abilities, rather than focusing on their disabilities,” she says.

A great example of that is one of Barbara’s clients, Cathy Harbour who had a stroke when she was 38 and was living in a resthome facility. “The facility wasn’t geared for the rehabilitation and support she needed, it just wasn’t the right place for her to be.”

Harbour was referred to the Waikato Disability Support Link team, which got a support and rehabilitation plan underway. She is now married, living in her own place, and does volunteering work around Hamilton and has a part time job.

“She only needs a few supports now, mostly she can do it all herself. She’s an inspirational person,” Walters says. (Read Cathy’s story here on www.stuff.co.nz)

While clients like Cathy Harbour can make huge progress, others need intensive support for the long-term, both for themselves and their caregiver. This may include someone who has a progressive disease such as Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy or motor neurone disease where the support needs can change very quickly and the team has to be very responsive, ensuring that those needs are met and the primary carer has adequate rest.

A feature of the team is a model for Maori clients. The Maori NASC assessment process for Waikato was developed alongside iwi and Maori service providers from all over the Waikato region. The purpose is to ensure Maori under-65 Disability Support Link clients are assessed and supported in a culturally appropriate way. Team member Tema Aperehama-Tapu is the coordinator for this client group.

Graham Guy is very proud of what the team achieves. “We have a goal to assess 80 per cent of clients within 20 working days of their referral.  Currently we exceed this figure – we are seeing 90 per cent of clients within this time frame.  This out-performs many better resourced NASCs in other regions.

“This is remarkable considering the size of the team and the number of clients,” Guy says.

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