Volunteers Serve Up Holistic Health at Servants Health Centre

Left to Right: Nurse Fiona Arnold, Doctor John Arnold and Doctor Peter Ripley

John Arnold is the clinical leader at the Servants Health Centre—a charitable organisation governed by Christian principles. The Centre was founded by a trust in 2009, and it has been serving the Dunedin community since 2010. The place is almost entirely run by volunteers!

“Everyone’s got skills,” John explains. “In the bible they call them ‘talents.’ With our skills we can serve people with health, and there is a lot of need out there, there’s no doubt about it.

“Our clients are mainly beneficiaries. We do have some people in employment, but usually when these people come along they might be sex workers, or they might be ex-prisoners, just out of prison. These are the kinds of people you can really work with. Whether you’re trying to do this sort of work or whether you’re trying to get someone involved in the community, you can’t really work with someone who’s complacent and happy and thinks that life’s going well and that they’ve done it all themselves. You can’t change anything there because they feel they’re okay with the way their world’s going. But we have a lot of people here with mental health problems, and some people who’ve made some terrible choices or have experienced unfortunate events.

“We’ve got a lot of alcohol and drug users accessing our service, but we see ourselves as primary care. Community Drug and Alcohol services are a secondary service. They used to be right across the street from us here in the centre of town, but now they’ve moved up to Waikari for cost-cutting purposes and so on; they’re not that accessible to be frank. In that sense they might have put a barrier between themselves and the people, and if you’re not a healthy person but not an extremely mentally unwell person either, it’s quite hard to get help. In that case you often have to go through general practice, and general practice can be expensive.”

There are usually three paid employees and seventeen volunteers working at the Centre.

“Our volunteers are amazing,” says John. “I’m amazed that people just give away their time in the service of others. That’s obviously great for us, but I also think it’s great for them. Clearly it helps other people but it builds community too, just to be a volunteer. Our paid workers also come here out of a sense of mission; they’re not just here for a job. They chose this job because of a sense of mission in their hearts.

“Our structure makes it easier for people to contribute to the community. There are people who just do half a day a month, or simply one hour a week. That includes doctors, nurses and counselors, cleaners, and people who support the receptionists. Someone comes in and does the laundry every week. People come in and do baking. People come in and just talk to people. We’ve also got a program here called Living Life Well. It’s all built around the health service, however, and if you didn’t have the doctors here, then most people wouldn’t come. So mostly it’s a health service but it’s a social health service too.

“There’s a lot of social stuff in this. We’ve got the opportunity to treat the bigger picture here because we’re not driven by commercial goals. As a GP you have to make your business work, but here we’re not trying to make the business work, we’re just trying to help people. We have different conversations here: everyone knows that this is a Centre founded on Christian principles, and we believe that there’s a spiritual component to life, so that comes up in conversations too.”

If you’d like to learn more about Servants Health Centre or express an interest in helping out, you can visit their website at shc.org.nz or phone them on 03 477 7040.

John Arnold can be contacted directly at john@shc.org.nz, or you can phone him on 027 779 7762.

 by Hayden Williams