Locked-in and locked-out: The battle facing Nick Chisholm
It can take the father of triplets and champion bodybuilder hours to write a single email concerning his future.
Champion wheelchair bodybuilder Nick Chisholm. Photo: Hamish McNeilly
His eyes zero in on the question mark. And again. And again.
“? ? ? ? ? ? ?” Nick Chisholm spells out via his communication board - a transparent Perspex board covered with the alphabet which he uses to spell words using his eyes.
That is the 48-year-old’s answer on what happens next.
This week he was notified by HealthCare NZ that the healthcare provider had pulled-out of providing him support, citing difficulties in finding vaccinated staff.
But only one staff member left due to concerns over vaccinations, Chisholm said.
The agency had worked with Chisholm, who has locked-in syndrome and requires round-the-clock care, for two decades.
“This is my battle,’’ he says during an interview at his gym.
Nick Chisholm. Photo: Supplied
Chisholm, a husband and proud father of 20-month-old triplets – two girls and a boy – is worried about the future and particularly for his young family.
Previously the healthcare provider had helped Chisholm by providing access to staff, but the relationship between both parties had become increasingly fraught.
Chisholm said staff he had personally sourced and trained for HealthCare NZ had been effectively poached by the agency, and he had to accept their selections or otherwise the work “all falls on my wife”.
But a letter dated from the agency on November 30, changed all that.
“Despite our best attempts to work through these challenges, it has become clear that the current situation is no longer tenable, and your safety and care needs must take priority,” the letter said.
“It is for this reason that Healthcare New Zealand has made the very difficult decision to withdraw from providing Home and Community Support Services to you.’’
Nick and Nicola Chisholm. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
That care includes providing support for Chisholm at home, with his wife – Nicola – doing the night-shift.
With Nicola increasingly busy with the triplets, two carers helped Chisholm in the mornings, and then another two in the afternoon.
Two other carers assisted him at the gym for three hours a day, five days a week.
Nick Chisholm uses his communication board. Photo Hamish McNeilly
That was effectively his job; all unpaid. As Chisholm, a 10x national wheelchair bodybuilding champion, trains others who had suffered the likes of brain injuries and strokes, as part of Iron Warriors.
“I get a massive buzz out of doing this.’’
Chisholm personally fundraised, via community grants and with the support of the New Zealand Rugby Foundation, to operate Iron Warriors as he saw the benefit for those impacted by life's physical and mental challenges.
“People come in wheelchairs, and they end up walking out of here.’’
Chisholm's own life changed forever on a Dunedin rugby field, when the-then 27-year-old suffered a stroke on July 29, 2000.
After a series of seizures he was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, leaving the body unresponsive but all cognitive functions intact.
Essentially a tetraplegic, Chisholm has fought back, to a point where he can walk assisted, and on a treadmill. It is a small step, but a giant one for a person with locked-in syndrome, many of whom die shortly after their diagnosis.
Chisholm said HealthCare New Zealand had changed following a restructure, with the responsibility of overseeing his team moving from Dunedin to Christchurch.
A key person was moved from that role as she was not a registered nurse, and replaced by another who refused to reply to Chisholm’s requests.
That included concerns over key vacancies. But when his wife advertised a position on Facebook she received a dozen applicants in an hour. And when asked why HealthCare NZ couldn’t do something similar they said it was proving difficult to attract people, particularly students, to Mosgiel for work.
“I don’t live in Mosgiel,’’ Nick Chisholm said.
Nick Chisholm takes break at the gym. Photo: Hamish McNeilly
Chisholm said it could take hours for him to compose an email, and he had become increasingly frustrated by being ignored.
And then on Monday he was notified by ACC, which provides funding to HealthCare NZ for supporting Chisholm, that HealthCare New Zealand had walked away from their contract, as of December 12.
ACC chief operating officer Gabrielle O’Connor said Chisholm's ACC Recovery Partner was “working with Nick and his family to find an alternative support arrangement’’.
That recovery partner had worked with Chisholm for seven years, supporting his family on any issues they had experienced: “Over this time, we have been aware that there have been frustrations with suppliers providing care and support services’’.
Recent work included a change in funding arrangements, allowing Chisholm to engage carers directly.
O’Connor acknowledged that the vaccination mandate had presented challenges to contracted suppliers, with ACC working with suppliers “to ensure those with the highest needs still receive the essential services they require”.
“We have agreed that suppliers will exhaust all options available to them to provide continued support.’’
Josephine Gagan, NZ Health Group group chief executive, said Chisholm was ‘‘one of a handful of clients that HealthCare NZ has unfortunately needed to stop providing their services, due to the Government’s mandate that all health care sector workers must be vaccinated’’.
‘‘The mandate has resulted in increasing staffing shortages in an already stretched sector resulting in a review of client delivery.’’
This decision has been a difficult one to make, but HealthCare NZ has been left with no other choice.’’
I’ll keep you updated on Nick’s case. Special thanks to him and his supporters for sharing.
This week I chased-up a couple of tips that didn’t pan out. One of those was a question over the former Bell Tea building, which has seemingly sat unoccupied on Dunedin’s Hope St since it was bought in 2014.
The Bell Tea building on Dunedin’s Hope St on a typical stunning day. Photo: Hamish McNeilly
It was closed earlier that year due to the need for earthquake strengthening work.
The man who bought the building, Dunedin developer Peter Gullen, was not forthcoming when approach about the building’s future plans.
‘‘No comment,’’ he said, before hanging-up.
That comes as the council was working to identify earthquake-prone buildings around the city, with an estimated 3000 buildings likely to require assessment.
But don’t expect any sudden rush to fix - owners have 35 years to complete strengthening work.
I guess time to have a cup of tea, or at least listen this 3 minute slice of perfection from Kane Strang.
This week I reported on a sea lion being harassed by a dirt bike hoon at Tomahawk Beach on Monday afternoon.
That rider was yet to be identified, but it comes as reader flicked me two photos of 4WDs driving along Whareakeake (previously known as Murdering Beach) on Sunday.
It is an important issue in wildlife-rich Dunedin, where you are almost as likely to find a sunbathing seal as a human sunbather.
The sign at Whareakeake is pretty obvious. Photo: Supplied
I checked to see the progress of that complaint.
DCC Parks and Recreation group manager Scott MacLean confirmed he had spoken to the complainant, and explained the process.
That included council writing to the registered owner of the vehicle, informing them they had been spotted driving on one of our beaches which breached the Reserves and Beaches Bylaw 2017.
That could result in a prosecution and fine, but MacLean said education rather than prosecution was preferred.
To date, some 125 letters to vehicle owners had been sent and ‘‘we are seeing a positive improvement in compliance’’.
‘‘It is very rare to see the same vehicle reported more than once.’’
I’m also pleased to report that it almost my family’s favourite tradition; from 2pm on Thursday, December 2, Moana House on High St will again be selling their Christmas trees as part of their annual fundraiser.
Moana House is described as a ‘‘residential therapeutic community for adult male offenders who want to change their lives’’.
What a great cause. Can’t wait to choose our tree.
Did you see this interesting plea from The Regent Theatre?
Reminds me (very loosely) of the time my eldest son found a hilarious note inside a Roald Dahl book at the Dunedin Public Library:
And that brings me to Tweet of the Week: And it goes to the city’s mayor who published a sneak peek of Dunedin’s latest public art work. It is set to be (officially) unveiled on Friday.