A year of big change for two workers in MIFs in Rotorua
31/12/2020 3:11:50 p.m.

Thursday 31 December 2020


Helping returning New Zealanders


The year 2020 didn’t turn out how anyone could have predicted, but for two self-employed women the pandemic resulted in jobs that they both love, helping returning New Zealanders.

Kahira-Rata Olley is one of the Wellbeing Navigators helping returnees in the three managed isolation facilities (MIFs) and Annemarie Gallagher is the nursing team leader at Rydges.


Kahira-Rata Olley

At the start of 2020 Kahira was busy as ever with her charitable trust, Save Our Babies. There are many different kaupapa, including making school lunches, and the trust had experienced significant growth.

“When we went into lockdown we became part of the essential services, even though we thought we’d get a break because schools were closed. We didn’t get that break; instead we provided kai for our community. I was also studying manaakitangata at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

“I saw this job advertised and even though we’ve been self-employed for 15 years I believed this role was perfect because it’s about wellbeing. Everything I do is for the wellbeing of our whanau.”

She says because it was a new position created quickly the team “came in blind”.

“We’re here for the wellbeing of the returnees and make their stay as pleasant as possible. For a lot of whanau their travel has been stressful. Sometimes people want to talk to someone over the phone – I’ve spent an hour chatting to someone. I’ve sat on the other side of the hotel door talking to people who didn’t want to go outside.

“I’m so grateful I got a job through a pandemic, I know so many people have lost theirs. I feel I’m on the frontline of history. 

"We’re the only ones who work with the guests directly and with the co-ordination centre directly; we’re the voice for our guests.

“What I love is when we see whanau coming home after being overseas for many years. They know they’re safe here.”

Annemarie Gallagher 

“The year 2020 for me was based around training my marathon group, I was also going to be doing Dancing With The Stars [for Hospice] and we had a busy year planned for our motels and tourism business.

“Then the pandemic hit and we watched our motel bookings drop off the grid. Then I considered returning to nursing.”

Annemarie had spent 18 years as a nurse, including in a leadership role at Waikato Hospital in ICU, but had spent nine years out of uniform.

Retired nurses were able to get practising certificates to return to work and Annemarie was one of two recruited by Lakes DHB.

“I went back to ICU as an agency nurse and I was there for a month. Then we got the call to say the Managed Isolation Facilities were opening, it was an emergency situation and they needed as many agency staff to help. I turned up to the Sudima on a night shift the first night they opened, with boxes of PPE and the Auckland protocols and that’s how we started.

“We oversee the healthcare processes, making sure everything runs smoothly. Everyone has a daily health check; we work with arrivals and departures and on swabbing days. It’s all infection control management – I’ve learned an awful lot about infection control and how careful we have to be.

“What we’re doing is protecting the country and it’s a role I take very seriously. There’s no room for error. Every process has to be followed through very thoroughly.

“Everyone has to look after everyone else, any weak link can break the chain.

“It’s impacted my life a lot. I’ve withdrawn from everything else I was doing and limit my contact with people – I catch up with people individually rather than in large groups.

“I love my job and I’m very proud of what I do because as far as I’m concerned, the buck stops with me in terms of this virus getting into the country.

“It’s been a rolling ball of constant change and we have to get on with it. We have a lot of fun as we like to make the guests happy."