Jeremy Staines just wants to go back to work.
The 48-year-old Pyes Pa man, who lives with advanced cerebral palsy, has been selling coffee beans and grinds outside Tauranga Hospital for the past two years.
But that all came to an “abrupt end” late last month when he was told to leave by security.
“It hurt me. I like to meet everybody. I don’t like to stay home. I like to go out and do things with my days. I like to get up and go to work – like you,” he said.
The health board said there was “heightened awareness” of activities on the hospital sites due to the surge of Omicron cases in the region and it was no longer appropriate people were onsite unless they needed healthcare.Staines had been “operating on the Tauranga Hospital campus with no formal knowledge or permission”.
Staines works as a distributor for a social enterprise Drink My Coffee which aims to create employment opportunities for those living with disabilities.
“It is really hard. I have got my coffee business online. But I need more, I want to get going.”
Staines had a solid group of customers – many hospital employees – who bought coffee from him on a regular basis.
“Everybody knew me.”
He married his wife Justina 14 years ago and has lived in Tauranga for the past 30 years.
Staine’s carer Kenneth Hutchison, who helped him when selling coffee, said his presence was “much appreciated” by passing coffee fans, former work colleagues and those passing through.
In a letter to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, he said Staines’ work came to an “abrupt end” on January 24 after being asked nicely by a hospital security guard to leave the premises “immediately”.
“This was a totally unexpected and traumatic setback for Jeremy’s hard-won achievement of developing his independence.”
He felt their reasoning behind Staines needing to leave was a “pedantic over-reaction” for someone who was “sitting on a bench in the open air in the carpark area”.
“He has got a long struggle ahead of him to get back what was a great little outlet. It wasn’t just the money, it was the people. That is the biggest loss.”
The pair were now seeking support from other businesses to sell the coffee products in a new spot with high foot traffic. So far they had been turned away from multiple businesses.
“He is quite resilient but when we were going around … he got quieter and quieter.”
Asked what his message to the Bay of Plenty DHB was, Staines said: “Let me come back, I want to work.”
Tony McLean, who is a longtime friend of Staines, said no longer being able to operate at the hospital had decimated his business overnight.
“The gig at the hospital was going so well, it has been the foundation of his business because moving place to place is a real challenge for him. The setup gave him high-intensity foot traffic and people were incredibly supportive.”
He described his friend as an “incredibly committed and dedicated guy” who simply wanted to go to work.
“Jeremy is always looking for opportunities. It brings so much purpose into his life and he has a lot of energy,” he said.
“Doing what he is doing has been incredibly valuable to him.”
He thought the situation was “morally unjust” and said the DHB’s decision had taken a toll on Staines.
“The impact on the DHB is nothing, the impact on this man’s life is profound. And now he is thrown back into the situation of what to do now.”
In a written statement, Bay of Plenty DHB facilities and business operations general manager Jeff Hodson said there was “heightened awareness” of people and activities on the hospital sites due to the surge of Omicron cases in the region.
He said it was “no longer appropriate” that people were onsite unless they needed healthcare.
Hodson said up until now Staines had been “operating on the Tauranga Hospital campus with no formal knowledge or permission”.
He said all people operating at hospital sites needed to be approved by the DHB through a “formal application process” and meet certain criteria – including insurance.
“We also need to protect the safety of our patients and members of the public, including Mr Staines; especially in the context of increased Covid cases locally.”
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