30 Jan, 2023
Burdened carers stretched to their limits and running on empty can now find some well-earned TLC in a place tucked away in a peaceful corner of Mangawhai, a new home of healing built on the vision of one woman’s heart and soul.
Located in Mangawhai Heads, Heart Place Hospital is the brainchild of local Jacqui O’Connor, a qualified and experienced nurse who knows first-hand the pain of burnout. After six years of research, she felt compelled to create the charity hospital as a stopping point where other carers, from medical professions to educators, can turn to when overwhelmed with stress, fatigue and exhaustion.
“Heart Place Hospital is my vision of a healing space which will bring people together, that will honour our intuition and emotions and change the perception of what a hospital is, from being a place that you go to when you’re broken,” Jacqui says.
“Our carers – frontline workers in health, education and parenting – are never taught the importance of caring for themselves and many have defining life experiences which aren’t identified and supported, and are then affected by the huge demands of their roles. The hospital is a safe space for them to be uplifted and supported with the tools and information required to feel healed, heart-full and remember the power within us all.”
After graduating from Unitech with a nursing degree in 1993, Jacqui spent 26 years ‘parading around in sexy grey-green scrubs and face masks’ within Auckland hospitals, including Greenlane, Waitakere, Starship and Auckland Hospital, as well as London’s Great Ormond Street and St Mary’s hospitals. After marrying and raising two daughters and continuing on with her nursing career, over the past seven years she became aware her ‘tank’ was operating on empty, and struggled to find any help: “There were no relevant wrap-around support options for people in my position and there still isn’t.”
“My burnout was caused by a combination of defining experiences as a young patient as well as being disempowered in our education system and over-worked and under-valued in our health care system,” she says. “I was born with a serious heart condition for which I underwent two major surgeries, one when I was four where I had the frightening experience of waking up during surgery, and the other when I was eight. In 2016, I came face-to-face with this childhood trauma with a new procedure at the same hospital. This started a chain reaction of PTSD including symptoms of agoraphobia, insomnia, and anorexia which took a long time to heal from, both psychologically and spiritually.”
As an emotional/spiritual ‘empath’ – a person with a heightened ability to sense and care for the emotional/mental state of others as well as being deeply connected to intuition and spirit – Jacqui wanted to reach out to other carers who were in need of support.
After having no success lobbying government agencies and health boards with solutions, she realised ‘I was going to have to be the change that I wanted in the world… I got excited, I got fired up… and I created Heart Place Hospital.’
Currently working from temporary premises while waiting council consent to start building, Jacqui says the hospital space will provide a meeting area as well as accommodation for carers who need some time out. All services are offered free of charge.
“The vision is the hospital will work as a conduit connecting clients to service providers, and visitors will receive a menu of services which they can utilise during and after their stay that will also provide them with tools for the long-term. We receive no government funding so rely on the generosity and caring nature of people all over New Zealand to deliver these services.”
Along with managing the hospital, the 48-year-old has also recently co-authored a book, aimed to inspire and encourage anyone who is thinking of entering the field of nursing or considering a change in the role. ‘Letters to a Future Nurse’ is a compilation of ‘authentic, raw, real stories’ from over 20 nurses in various countries, who love their work but sometimes question their career choice.
“It’s also for those who are already working in the field and feeling burnt out, which is where Heart Place Hospital comes in. It offers everything I wish had been available to me when I first looked for support and felt lost and alone. I spent the past six-plus years researching the cutting edge of what really makes people sick and what really makes our bodies ripe for miracles, and everything I've learned I offer to healers and future healers,” she says. “Our carers give so much I just want to help them feel uplifted, heart-full and empowered, this is my offering… and I offer it with my whole cracked open heart.”
n To know more and donate to Heart Place Hospital visit heartplacehospital.org.NZ/donate
Heart Place Hospital founder Jacqui O’Connor; her life-calling has been caring for others and now the former nurse is creating a Mangawhai-based safe haven for stressed carers who need some time out and support. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Our carers – frontline workers in health, education and parenting – are never taught the importance of caring for themselves… The hospital is a safe space for them to be uplifted and supported.
- Jacqui O’Connor