26 Sep 2021

Piopio Dental: rural women and a tale of 2 pandemics

In November 2019 I was at the Beehive in Wellington attending the Rural Women’s New Zealand Business Awards. It was quite a different setting to our usual day-to-day life in Piopio. Piopio Dental had won the Health and Wellbeing Award, sponsored by Access Community Health.

Access Community Health is a provider of home-based healthcare and support. It was originally started and owned by Rural Women New Zealand, and formerly called the Women’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers Union. In 1927 Rural Women New Zealand launched the Bush Nurse and Emergency Housekeeper Scheme. The aim was to try to reduce the hardships, loneliness, and improve the health of women living in rural back blocks.

Sitting in the Beehive I felt quite embarrassed; I had no idea of this history of Rural Women’s or that my sponsor had such close ties to the organisation. As a healthcare provider this history aligned with our all-female dental practice in a small rural community. There was however another twist in this tale.

In 1918 the Spanish Flu hit New Zealand. Historic records estimate around 9000 New Zealanders died in less than two months. At this time my great grandparents Kate (Gran) and Jim (Guggy) Tatham lived and farmed in Oparure. During the 1918 pandemic my great grandmother nursed and supported the neighbouring Maori family through the Spanish flu. The entire family survived. As a gift of thanks, the family gifted my great grandmother a Tiki. This Tiki has been handed down through the woman of our family since then. In 2009 it was passed on to me by my aunt. I was wearing the Tiki that night in Wellington 101 years later.

Who could have predicted, only a few months after these business awards, the world would begin to grind to a halt with our century’s version of the Spanish Flu? During these challenging times I have reflected on my family history and the similarity of these two pandemics. What are the odds of a great granddaughter still living and farming in the district, whilst also providing a health service?

Like many small businesses in our area, we have struggled with the challenges Covid-19 has brought us. We have adapted to the times to ensure that we are able to continue to provide a much-needed oral health service in our region.

We have recently installed a Nederman suction unit to remove aerosols from our surgery during and after dental treatments. This unit changes the air in our surgery 11-13 times an hour. By increasing air changes in a room, and removing aerosols when they are produced, we are reducing the potential cross infection. As Covid-19 is primarily spread by aerosols we are greatly reducing the risks and providing better health and safety outcomes for patients and staff.

Just like my great grandmother we are working hard to protect our staff and patients. We will continue to adapt and adopt new technologies to provide the best and safest care we can. Look after yourselves, your extended family, and friends. We look forward to seeing you all at Piopio Dental.