Dean Cowles

Southern Cross Healthcare grows Te Ao Māori capabilities

Tuesday , 2 April 2024 by Carolyn Brooke

Southern Cross Healthcare’s National Nursing Advisor - Māori Affairs Dean Cowles (Ngāti Awa) is in his dream role, combining his clinical nursing career with his passion to strengthen his colleagues’ connection with Te Ao Māori while also improving outcomes for Māori patients and whānau. Even better in his view is that he has already started growing Southern Cross’ Māori workforce, with three new team members so far this year.

“Our aim is to embed Te Ao Māori in all that we do at Southern Cross Healthcare. Our Te Ao Māori journey will strengthen our ability to improve Māori health outcomes and future-proof our Māori workforce,” Cowles says.

Cowles started with Southern Cross Healthcare as a theatre educator at Southern Cross North Harbour in 2021 and moved into the National Nursing Advisor - Māori Affairs role last June.

A Kaimahi role, providing cultural care and support for Māori patients and whānau entering Southern Cross hospitals, has been implemented by Cowles and five hospitals have established positions so far. Nanette Aratema (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa) has been appointed as Kaimahi for four of Southern Cross' Auckland wholly owned hospitals, as well as national Kaiārahi (Māori Ambassador). While, Eru Waiti (Ngāti Pikiao) has been brought in to provide Kaimahi support at Southern Cross Christchurch Hospital.

Cowles has also developed a Maōri Navigation framework to optimise full wraparound holistic care for Māori. While in its pilot phase, Irene Walden (Ngāti Whātua) has been appointed as Māori Nurse Practitioner and brings clinical and cultural expertise to help drive the initiative forward.

A focus for the business this year will be to support all Southern Cross Healthcare employees to engage in cultural competency education, to develop local Hospital Hauora Māori Committees (which provide a high-level Māori voice in decision making) and to establish Kaimahi roles at all sites, as well as delivering clinical tikanga workshops.

“My role serves as a bridge between cultural understanding and clinical expertise across the entire surgical spectrum, providing guidance and mentorship, leveraging deep-rooted cultural insights to advise on Tikanga processes and ultimately elevate Māori health outcomes,” Cowles says.

“What we are looking to do is have hauora Māori support processes established in each Southern Cross hospital to provide a complete wrap around service for our staff and patients. We have already made some great progress in our Te Ao Māori journey and there is so much more to come.”

Cowles also co-chairs the AUT Kawa Whakaruruhau committee, consults on the New Zealand Perioperative Nurses College and facilitates virtual workshops and webinars for rural health practitioners. He has completed a Master’s thesis exploring strategies to improve Māori health outcomes in private surgical settings by exploring the perceptions and experiences of Māori nurses.

This year, Cowles will be contributing to a research project exploring the effects that the Ngā Paerewa Health and Disability Services Standard has had on Māori communities. His contribution will be carrying out a global scoping review.

“My kauapapa is based on inspiring transformational change for Māori patients and whānau who enter the health sector.”

Southern Cross Healthcare’s Chief Nursing Officer Monica Goldwater agrees the road ahead for the organisation’s Te Ao Māori journey is exciting.

“With Dean in the Māori Affairs Nursing Advisor role, along with great support from Nanette, Eru and Irene, we have amazing people to progress our Te Ao Māori journey,” Goldwater says.

“Each plays an important role in rolling Tikanga out throughout Southern Cross hospitals across Aotearoa and in supporting staff and patients in having an enhanced experience.”