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A Long Road from Participant to ‘Manage Better’ Program Lead: Rita Tai-Hewing

As a part of the Wellness Support Team offering, the Manage Better program is a peer-led self-management course for anyone who has a long-term condition such as diabetes, depression, chronic pain, heart disease, asthma or anxiety.

While the Manage Better program has an impressive 61% improvement rate on participants’ mental wellbeing, what’s not shown in the statistics, is the genuine and life-changing impact the program has on people’s lives.

Rita Tai-Hewing is currently the Self-Management Education Lead and a Train the Trainer (T Trainer) for the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, Diabetes Self-Management Program and Chronic Pain Self-Management Program. Her journey began when she was a participant herself, back in the early days of the program in 2015.

We caught up with Rita to find out about her incredible personal journey from a program participant, to program lead over the past six years.

 “This is me, and this is where I need to be”

A patient of Dr Kanti Patel since she was 5 years old, Rita’s ties with Tamaki Health began well before she became a part of the organisation.

“My GP has always been Dr Kanti Patel. Its huge ties – he’s always been supportive of my family and he always comes up to me and asks “how’s mum and dad? He knows basically our entire street and has always been there for me and my family.”

While Rita has always been a part of the Tamaki Health extended family, her journey with the Manage Better program began when she experienced a ‘mental breakdown’ while managing diabetes.

“I struggled, I didn’t know what was going on with me - it was all new. I isolated myself, I had mood swings all of the time and I couldn’t understand the emotions I was going through.”

Many times Rita was offered the Manage Better service by her GP, and while she was reluctant at first, eventually she gave the program a chance and attended.

“To be perfectly honest, I turned it down a few times. My thought process back then was ‘who the hell do they think they are, what do they know?’ But Ula Pasene who was part of the Manage Better Team never gave up on me, she kept ringing me and saying ‘give us a try’, and I realised I needed to seek help and thought why not?”

For Rita, the program genuinely changed her life, so much so, that she quickly became a volunteer program facilitator.

“This programme actually helped me balance everything in my life. They dedicated me as the evening facilitator for the programs, and I ran it from 2015 to 2017 as a volunteer, and it wasn’t until 2017 that I was offered an opportunity to work in the healthcare system and I thought ‘hell yes!’. It was like, this is me and this is where I need to be."

“Our eldest zoom participant would have been 87 years old”

With many different support programs offered to the community, what makes Manage Better so different and effective is the fact that it’s led by people who have ‘walked the walk’ and been through similar situations themselves – just like Rita.

The success of the program also comes down to the way it’s grown and changed to meet the needs of the participants, like transitioning from face-to-face to zoom sessions, for example.

“Our eldest zoom participant would have been 87 years old, and he was so amazing. It was so great, and his daughter joined in and said “I’m so proud of Dad”. Now he can connect to family overseas and grandchildren.”

But it’s not just COVID that’s spurred the adaptively of the program, it’s the genuine needs of patients, and the proof is in the pudding.

“Participants will walk into the first session very humble, quiet and scared. Then we see them halfway through speaking, talking, sharing and helping each other out. At the end of it, they have each other’s phone numbers and support groups. They then have the confidence to lead programs.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would become the lead and a T Trainer (Train the Trainer)”

The Wellness Support Team is built on taking a holistic approach to healthcare, which for Rita, is what made such a huge impact in her own experience of Manage Better and why she is so proud of how far she’s come, from participant to lead and T trainer.

“It’s helping the community with a holistic approach. It’s realising that it’s not just the chronic illness that they have, but the ripple effects that it causes. It’s the emotions that come with it, the spiritual feeling that comes with it – it’s so much more. Instead of just targeting the pain, we look at the person and a whole.”

The holistic approach is what makes Rita so proud to be a part of the Wellness Support Team, and be able to use her personal experience and help others.

“We look at the mental, spiritual and physical aspects, we look at the family – and that’s what I have really loved being a part of with Tamaki Health. Everything connects, the whole Whare Tapa Whā.

Being part of a team like this is amazing, and being a part of the Wellness Support Team is like being a part of a family.”