Dr Jeff Garon is a GP at Ōrākei Health, a whānau health clinic proudly owned and operated by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Jeff would never have predicted living through a pandemic, let alone being a doctor through one, but the lockdown last year saw Jeff’s mahi really take off.
Since the start of lockdown, Jeff recorded weekly live videos on the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei - Whai Māia Facebook page.
What started as a way of busting myths and sharing information about the COVID-19 vaccine for Māori and Pasifika communities evolved to taking on topics like mindfulness, thyroid, blood pressure and gout.
For Jeff, who wanted to make the best of a not-so-great situation, the aim of these videos was to empower people to take their healthcare back into their own hands.
The response was huge, and the videos reached thousands. “I quickly learned that it’s hard for people to trust a stranger. Doctors move on all the time and people only get a 15-minute consultation – so a big part of doing these videos was not just the education, but the whanaungatanga and allowing people to feel they’d got to know me. Only with that do you build trust and respect. I wasn’t trying to get people to trust the vaccine, I was trying to show them they could trust me.”
On top of his videos, Jeff wanted to support the vaccine drive amongst Māori communities, so he got a list of every one of Ōrākei Health’s patients who hadn’t been vaccinated and started calling them to give them the opportunity to talk through their concerns. Jeff says the unique opportunity that comes from working for Ngāti Whātua is that everyone is whānau, so once you build that trust and respect, those people tell others and the trust spreads.
“I went down rabbit holes reading all the information I could find about the vaccine. I told people ‘I can’t promise nothing bad is going to happen, but I really think this is the best option.’ People responded well to that honesty.”
Jeff stresses the key role Ōrākei Health has played in all of this. “I couldn’t do what I’m doing without the wonderful team I’m working with. Whilst GP clinics typically became quieter when we went into lockdown, Ōrākei Health supported me to take an idea that had been in my mind for years and turn it into a reality. They empowered, supported and respected me enough to do this which shows how much they value their patients.”
Jeff believes the foundations of everything are always kanohi ki te kanohi/face to face interactions, whānau and word of mouth. Whoever has watched a video and told others to watch it are awesome in Jeff’s eyes!
Thank you to Jeff and the Ōrākei Health team for the community spirit, selflessness and passion you’ve shown throughout the pandemic.