Te Whatu Ora Lakes farewells Aunty Phyllie


It was an emotional farewell today for Phyllis Tangitu, Te Whatu Ora Lakes Pou Manukura Relationships and Engagement.

It was an emotional farewell today for Phyllis Tangitu, Te Whatu Ora Lakes Pou Manukura Relationships and Engagement, as she leaves the organisation after over 30 years’ service.

The room at Rotorua Hospital was packed with staff members, health providers, iwi representatives and her whānau to acknowledge Phyllis’s contribution to health services and iwi.

Phyllis Tangitu (centre) with Mapihi Rahuruhi and Nick Saville-Wood

Interim District Director Nick Saville-Wood said Phyllis has been a fundamental part of the organisation and health services and has made a tremendous contribution.

“I celebrate the tremendous amount of work and the impact you have had on this organisation and on Māori health development.

"We are significantly better off for having you and for your commitment.

"I was always amazed that where ever we went you knew everyone and they knew you. You are a truly phenomenal person.”

Invited speakers included Mayor Steve Chadwick, former board chair Stewart Edward, former board member and paediatrician Dr Johan Morreau and Te Arawa Whānau Ora chair Te Ururoa Flavell.

Stewart Edward said Phyllis has a way of connecting and helping people in difficult times.

“Your ability to enable whānaungatanga has been your absolute strength," he said.

"You were able to connect us with the people and your ability to work across Māori and Pakeha worlds was for the benefit of us all.”

Dr Johan Morreau said Phyllis had been a "wonderful glue" for the organisation and its relationships in the community and the wider health system.

He said Lakes was one of the first DHBs to have a Māori Health team.

“The team made sure Māori felt comfortable being cared for here and felt part of it. You bridged all of that for all of us.”

Dr Morreau said Māori health had become part of the doctors’ appointment and credentialling process in Phyllis’s time. She also helped make marae visits happen for staff to learn history and tikanga.

“You facilitated those things to ensure a focus in health on quality care for our community.”

Te Ururoa Flavell said Phyllis has been the “go to person at the hospital for iwi” whenever something needed sorting in health, everyone would ring Phyllis 24/7.

“Your contribution to the health of our people has been huge.

"You have changed and adapted the system. It’s been important for us, teaching the system about our world.

"There’s still a lot to be done but what’s been done has been because of you and Eru (George).”

Lifewise CEO Haehaetu Barrett acknowledged Phyllis’s leadership and mentoring of a number of people who now hold significant roles in the health sector.

“You work with heart. You taught us how to sit at the table as the only Māori with grace and integrity and keep advocating for our people," she said.

"You lead with heart, vision and support for our people and you instilled that. Your mana around adversity is to be admired.”

Phyllis acknowledged the late Inez and Pihopa Kingi as being the reason she changed from teaching to health.

She said she would not be the person she is today without the backing of her whānau and kaumatua who led health developments in the early days.

Phyllis recalls with respect the kaumatua and kuia that led and supported Māori Health including: Tutanekai Kinita, Hapi Winiata, John Vercoe, Eru George, Aramakaraka Pirika, Margaret Rapana, Ratana and Peehi Wall and Emily Rameka.

“I have to mention Arama Pirika and Eru George. They commanded a respectful presence, and enabled change.

"It’s about having the right people in positions to influence what needed to happen. I have had the privilege of working with a number of great leaders in the health sector.”

Phyllis says that, for her, serving “our people, the community” has been the most important part of her role over the years, helping them navigate the health environment.

“At the end of the day it’s about our commitment to our people. It’s been an incredible journey.”

“Staff are our greatest asset, the people who work here. Giving them the enablers and tools to do the best by our whānau is so incredibly important.

"When anyone enters the health system they need to feel safe, acknowledged, cared for and travel their health journey with ease, confidence and respect.”

Phyllis was brought into Mental Health and Addiction Services in 1991 as the Bicultural Coordinator for Po Te Atatu following a review of a Māori patient. The review highlighted concerns for the care and treatment of Māori.

Phyllis recalls fondly the women leaders at the time; Aunty Teresa Winiata (the first Maori Health Co-ordinator), Sally Pirihi and Carol Kohi (Social workers). These wāhine inspired her to do all she could for Māori, she says.

She worked in Mental Health and Addictions at Lakes for 16 years providing leadership and direction to the development of kaupapa Māori mental health services. Phyllis says a lot of Māori health development was led, including at a national level, by mental health in those early days.

In 1996, there was a redesign of the health system and she became Tumuaki of Te Whakaruruhau- the Māori health team that was established to lead Māori health development in the hospital and secondary services. Hunga Manaaki began in that time.

In 2001, when DHBs were formed, she became GM Māori with responsibility for Māori Health across the DHB.

Te Whakaruruhau remained in hospital services. Phyllis together with Pou Herenga Eru George began the journey to improve iwi relationships and set up Iwi Governance Boards with Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa.

In 2019 a Māori Health Review and the strong focus of the board and organisation on equity saw the appointment of an Equity Director and Phyllis became the Pou Manukura Relationships and Engagement.

Phyllis is a community member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal of New Zealand (and has served on the tribunal for 25 years) and is a current member of the Māori advisory committee for the development of the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

Phyllis is from Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Awa.

She is joining the Emerge Aotearoa Executive team as Mana Whakahaere.