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Niue: Corpse Held in Substitute Fish Chiller

Niue Hospital Facilities Questioned After Corpse Held In Fish Chiller

Report and photographs by John Andrews in Niue

Relatives of an elderly man who died on Niue Island are upset his body had to be held in a chiller used for storing fish. They believe the body of their patriarch, 91-year-old Tuhipa Niutama, does not deserve the indignity of having to lie in a food container for two weeks pending burial.

Click to enlarge

The fish chiller used to hold the body of Tuhipa Niutama.

They learned that Niue Foou Hospital officials resorted to a substitute chiller to keep dead bodies cool because their own mortuary’s refrigeration plant was not working, and hadn’t done so for the past six months.

The inability of eight close family members in Auckland to get to the tiny South Pacific island quickly delayed a funeral service for Mr Niutama, a former village policeman.

The family were told there were no seats for them on Niue-bound Air New Zealand flights until after the Pacific Islands leaders’ summit meeting ends today. (Pictured: the dead man's grandson, Richard Tuhipa.)

What’s been worrying them is the possibility they may face a hefty “chiller” bill based on the normal mortuary charge of $100 a day --- the cost of power to keep bodies cool.

Richard Tuhipa, Mr Niutama’s grandson, said: “We assumed the mortuary was up and running but they [hospital staff] said it had still not been repaired and he would have to go in a refrigerated cooler truck.

“People say that, out of respect for the older people, you should go through a proper process of funeral and burial, and that includes a mortuary that works. It has got to the point that it is ridiculous.”

Veve Jacobsen (pictured right), Niue’s newly appointed Minister of Health, sympathised with Mr Tuhipa and highlighted other shortcomings at the $6 million hospital opened by Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters opened just over two years ago.

She referred to it as an “incomplete” hospital complex. “We have a septic tank that stinks like anything,” she said. “There have been complaints about the septic tank but the high commissioner [Brian Smythe] says it is not being maintained properly.

“It has been smelling for months. Patients and staff have to live with it. We have a mortuary that doesn’t work. The refrigerator is stuffed up so we cannot provide that service.

“Everything in that hospital is supposed to be new. If it is relatively new equipment, why has it broken down? When will it be fixed?”

Click to enlarge

Niue's Foou Hospital.

Professor Sitalei Ata’ata Finau, Niue’s director of health, said responsibility for deficiencies at the hospital rested with bureaucrats in New Zealand and Niue, both from hospital design and maintenance perspectives.

The absence of a replacement compressor for the mortuary was “a casualty of a shortage of finance” but a new one would be found.

He said: “All sorts of things need to be done. Equipment keeps breaking down with no back up service available on the island. Maintenance here in general is not very good.

“There’s debate between New Zealand and Niue as to what is maintenance or new work. New Zealand funds maintenance and not new works. It is very bureaucratic.

“It’s a very unreasonable discussion which does not solve anything and causes a malaise among the [hospital] workers. It’s the bureaucrats in New Zealand together with the ones here that are causing problems.” Professor Finau cited several problems and design faults at the hospital:-

*The septic tank had “played up” since the hospital opening.

*A lack of a kitchen meant patients’ meals were supplied by an outside contractor.

*Totally inappropriate café site.

*None of the building’s electric door stoppers and electric head boards worked.

*Poor dental laboratory ventilation caused dental technician to refuse to work there.

*A tiny library designed like a prison dungeon.

*Rainwater puddles at the front door because the surface sloped the wrong way.

*The roof leaked in some places.

Professor Finau said he believed those responsible for paying the hospital’s designers needed to answer questions as to why they allowed the defects to happen.

Replacement parts for the mortuary’s chiller compressor arrived last week and were installed two days ago. Mr Niutama’s funeral is expected to be held in Niue tomorrow [Friday].


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