30 Sep 2022

New children's health centre opens in Wellington

From Checkpoint, 5:51 pm on 30 September 2022

Today marked the beginning of a new chapter for children's health with the opening of a centre in Wellington which will provide special care for families from Hawke's Bay and Taranaki, to Marlborough.

Te Wao Nui was blessed at dawn before being formally opened by the governor-general and minister for health, among a collective of community leaders, donors, old patients and hospital staff.

The new block is a place no whānau wants to be, but some cannot avoid - that is why it has been built with children front of mind.

Te Wao Nui will care for up to 151 children for both short and long term treatments.

Medical equipment

One of the beds available at Te Wao Nui. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Paediatrician and co-clinical leader for child health services Rosalind Wood gave RNZ's reporter a tour of the spacious new facility this morning.

"Every single [patient] bed will have a pull down bed for a parent to stay on next to the child, so they're not going to need to sleep on a lazy boy or make do, they can get a good night's rest as well," Wood said.

The hospital's existing children's ward has long not been fit for purpose and during the RSV epidemic last year, it was challenging not having the space, she said.

There were commonly six young patients in a room, Woods said.

"One of those children would cry and wake up all the other children and by the time I came to do a ward round, half the parents were in tears as well.

"It's a very difficult space to get well in," Woods said, but that would not be the case any longer.

Mark Dunajschik

Dorothy Spotswood and Mark Dunajschik who donated $53 million to the centre's construction. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The new building became a reality, thanks to the generosity of local property developers Mark Dunajschik and Dorothy Spotswood who donated $53 million to its construction.

Te Wao Nui is located in the building named after them, the Mark Dunajschik and Dorothy Spotswood Building, next to Wellington Regional Hospital.

Their donation was later matched by the government, and the remaining $10m was fund-raised by the community and through the Wellington Hospitals Foundation.

Wellington Hospitals Foundation chair Bill Day said donations ranged from thousands of dollars to $7.50 and joked that the facility would never say no to more donations.

Seventeen-year-old Nicholas Volpicelli-Muollo was a special part of the project.

A broken collar bone when he was 14 led to a discovery of a bone tumour and he had to spend time in the children's ward to get better.

"It was scary thing to come across as a child" Volpicelli-Muollo told RNZ.

His time in the wards inspired him to fund-raise over the last three years.

Specifically, Volpicelli-Muollo noticed not every child staying in hospital could afford to hire TV screens for that much needed distraction.

Now thanks to his hard work of raising $50,000, 55 TV screens are scattered across the building.

"It feels really good because what started as a project to try help people has actually come true" he said.

Health Minister Andrew Little said the new facility would not be here if it was not for the community.

"The government of the day's got a responsibility to make sure hospital facilities are there, but some of those extra things that just make the difference are great when other people can contribute.

"But one thing is for sure, we would not have this facility in this way without Mark Dunajschik and Dorothy Spotswood," Little said.

The health centre is mostly just for beds - patients needing care will still need to go over the bridge to the main hospital.

Little said while the new space had not added extra bed capacity - it would free up more space in the general hospital for other care services.

The facility will be up and running for patients from 17 October.