Commissioner appointed for Waikato DHB

  • Hon Dr David Clark

The Health Minister has today informed Waikato DHB Board of his decision to appoint a Commissioner to replace the Board.

Dr David Clark has announced that former Director General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi will take up the Commissioner’s role, starting on Wednesday 8 May.

“After careful consideration of the submissions from Board members, I have decided that the appointment of a Commissioner is necessary to lead the significant changes required at the DHB,” David Clark says.

“In their submissions nine of the 11 Board members offered to resign. I think that reflects the seriousness of the challenges they have been dealing with.

"While I thank Board members for their service, installing a Commissioner is a necessary step towards addressing the DHB’s deteriorating financial position, lack of strong governance, and ongoing performance issues with clinical services.

“Waikato’s financial performance has deteriorated sharply. In 2017/18 they reported a deficit of $37.2 million, and they are forecasting a $56.1 million deficit for 2018/19 with increasing deficit forecasts in future years.

“Despite the efforts by the Crown Monitor there has been limited progress due to instability at a governance level. The ongoing performance issues with clinical services are concerning – as is the DHB’s inability to recruit a permanent chief executive.

“I have consistently made it clear to DHB chairs that I expect them to be careful stewards of our health system and deliver quality services to their communities. Where those expectations are not met I have a range of options available, including appointing a Commissioner.

“Dr Karen Poutasi has the ideal background and skills to tackle the issues at the DHB. She has strong governance skills and significant health sector experience, including 11 years as Director-General of Health.

“I have made my expectations clear to Dr Poutasi on the significant changes that are required to improve the DHB’s financial and clinical performance. I also expect robust governance arrangements to continue, particularly community and iwi engagement.

“To give Dr Poutasi time to get on top of the DHB’s issues I plan to introduce legislation to cancel the October 2019 elections for Waikato. That means the return to an elected board would follow the 2022 elections.

“Dr Poutasi will be on unpaid leave from her role as Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority when undertaking Commissioner duties, which are expected to require about two or three full-time days a week. She will also continue at NZQA on a part-time basis.

“Deputy Commissioner appointments will be made by the Commissioner in a timely manner.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank the Board members for their hard work and contribution. However, a new approach is needed to ensure Waikato DHB can return to a sustainable pathway and continue to provide their local community with access to the high quality health services they deserve,” David Clark said.

Biographical information: Dr Karen Poutasi
Dr Poutasi is the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority where she has worked for 13 years to deliver robust NCEA and Scholarship assessment, credentialing and quality assurance in the tertiary education sector.

She is a director of Network 4 Learning which is a Crown company providing high quality speed broadband, network support and fibre security to schools.

Dr Poutasi was previously the Director-General of Health for 11 years (1995-2006) where she was responsible for DHB establishment and delivery of the first primary healthcare strategy.

She is a medical professional and public health medicine specialist, and has held a number of management, clinical and chief executive roles at Dunedin Hospital, Middlemore Hospital and Wellington Area Health Board.

Dr Poutasi was most recently a panel member of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry (2016-2017).

She received a Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to health in 2006.

Dr Poutasi held a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard School of Public Health where she completed a Science Masters in Health Services Administration.

She has previously chaired Basketball New Zealand and been a member of the Presbyterian Support Central Board.

Dr Poutasi has affiliations through her family with the Samoan community. She was born into a farming community in Central Otago and grew up in Gore, Southland.