15 Oct 2021

MIQ emergency spots empty despite applications - advocates

From Checkpoint, 6:08 pm on 15 October 2021

The emergency allocation system for MIQ has being described as "hurtful" and "illogical", with fewer than 10 percent of applications being approved in some categories according to numbers released under the Official Information Act.

Each fortnight, 350 managed isolation rooms are set side for critical travel  - when a person is unlikely to get a MIQ spot in time through the lottery system.

Categories include travelling for medical treatment, to care for the terminally ill, look after a child or because of the death of close family. 

But advocacy group Grounded Kiwis says figures it's obtained suggest the rooms are being under used.

New Zealand citizen James Skurupey had to get to the United States in a hurry after his mother died in a car crash minutes from her house, as she drove home from work.

Skurupey's mum was a contract nurse who tested for Covid-19 and administered vaccines in Colorado. 

"The one thing I found was it's quite easy to get out of New Zealand, now getting back into New Zealand is a whole other question," he told Checkpoint.

Skurupey applied for an emergency allocation spot before he left. The first application was automatically kicked back because "if you don't fly within 14 days, if your date in the application of when you come back into New Zealand is not 14 days, it will be kicked back no matter what. Nobody looks at it, it's just the computer, [it] kicks it back".

Thinking his 14-day window would be waved because of his situation, and because of what he read on the website, Skurupey resubmitted his application.

"The problem is, there were no flights that could get me to Colorado and have at least a week, or even a few days to spend some time with my family, figure the (family) trust stuff out and be able to get a Covid test three days before my flight...that is even within 14 days."

He tried calling MBIE and while they were "very sympathetic and very nice, the only people you can talk to are just people who can listen to you, they can't direct you to anybody, they can't file a complaint..."

After filing a complaint and sending an email, he says all he got back was a computer generated response.

"I would describe the whole system as just sad. There's no excuse for not having somebody you can actually talk to, that can actually look into the situation. It's five days and only emails for somebody to get back to me and I just think that's just wrong."

The situation put a lot of extra pressure on him, he said.

He has finally managed to get an emergency allocation after what he thinks is four or five attempts - he's lost count - and he starts the journey home to Christchurch this weekend.
For Wellington psychiatrist Dr Sarah Romans, the future is less certain.

She headed to Melbourne for the birth of her grandchild but has been struck there for almost 3 months after the trans-Tasman bubble burst.

Romans looks after about 50 patients. She can see some remotely, but prescribing medication from afar is complicated. She has had to refer some patients to other services and there's a shortage of psychiatrists. 

"I provide a consultation service in psychiatry, mostly supporting general practice with patients who've got anxiety, depression, drug abuse problems, psychosis, but the GP needs more help and usually they are not able to get the patient seen at the district health board for various reasons."

Her waitlist for assessing new patients typically runs at 12 months.

"There were two people (patients) that ran into a crisis and I wasn't able to be there and sort it out for them. In both cases I had to pass it on to someone else even though I was the person that knew their situation best."

Romans put in an emergency application, thinking providing a time-critical health and disability service would make her an obvious candidate, but she was denied.

One of the reasons she was denied was because she didn't provide and employer's letter - she's self employed. The other reason was that she wasn't providing a new service, something she says wasn't outlined in the criteria online.

She hasn't been successful in the four MIQ lotteries she has tried her luck at.

Romans lives alone and says she was advised by the Ministry of Health to apply for the home self isolation trial  - but she's not eligible because she lives in Wellington and it will only operate in Auckland and Christchurch. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) declined Checkpoint's request for an interview, saying no one was available.