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Building wellbeing at the border​

If you had asked Benni Hulme a year ago what she would be doing now, caring for guests in a managed isolation facility wouldn’t have been on her radar.

The former flight attendant was stood down from her role in March. She soon started a new role as a wellbeing advisor for the CDHB.

She says all of the wellbeing team have a background in aviation.

“We understand and relate to people really well, and people who are out of their comfort zone, so it’s a really cool fit.”

Benni loves her new role.

“It’s a real privilege to help people. The best part is making a difference for people and making isolation easier for them.”

Currently based at the Sudima Hotel in Christchurch, her role involves touching base with all the isolated guest over the phone, keeping track of them, helping with any problems, writing a daily wellbeing newsletter, and booking flights and accommodation for guests once they leave isolation.

“Everyone deals with it differently. Some people love having two weeks to do nothing, while others really struggle, especially families with young children or people who have a sad reason for coming home.”

But being alone can trigger mental or wellbeing issues so they always encourage people to make a routine within the hotel and get outside for some fresh air.

“Our newsletters have wellbeing tips, recommendations for online yoga or exercise classes, puzzles, suduku, that sort of thing.”

Benni says they are always looking for fun activities for the children.

“There is a really good outdoor area at the Sudima, so one day we printed out pictures of animals and hid them in the trees for the kids to find. It was a lot of fun.”

Language barriers can make things a little tough, like with the Russian seamen, but they work with translators from the CDHB or liaise with English speaking family members.

They also work closely with other agencies including the New Zealand Defence Force and the Police Force.

Benni says the NZDF provide the structure and planning, while they add the customer service touch.

“The soldiers build things for the kids and we have an Isolation Champions Certificate, which the soldiers or police officers give to kids on completion of the 14 days. The kids love this.”

Benni says one of the most memorable moments was when she helped one of the guests play a surprise on her children.

“She had been working overseas so the children didn’t know she had returned. Dad bought the kids to the hotel when her isolation was finished and the kids were so excited to see her, it brought tears to my eyes.”

Benni says the guests really appreciate having someone to chat to and always there for them.

“There are some real characters in here, and we’ve had some really emotional goodbyes.”

The Christchurch City Mission and RSA have donated lots of toys and puzzles to keep kids entertained which is welcomed by the guests.

The Sudima has a Christmas display window for the kids to look at and they are making plans to make Christmas special for those in isolation.

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