Amfac’s end to have ‘devastating’ impact
The closing of Amfac Sugar Kaua’i will have “devastating” affects not only on
the men and women who have or are about to become unemployed, but on their
families and the community as a whole, a Lihu’e psychiatrist
“There’s a whole trickle-down effect,” especially when a father
who is the family’s main breadwinner is the one losing his job, said Dr. Gerald
McKenna, who has general psychiatry offices in Kukui Grove Professional
“There’s financial problems that will trickle down through the
family. The children are going to be impacted,” he said. “I think what you see
mostly is depression occurring, but you can also see a concomitant rise in
alcoholism. When people suddenly have nothing to do and no way to spend their
time, it doesn’t leave them many options.
“For men, since a lot of their
self-esteem is wrapped up in their work and making a contribution to the
community, (to) suddenly find themselves without that kind of support” is going
to be “devastating,” McKenna said.
“And,” he predicted, “I think so many
people on the island are living marginally financially anyway, (to) have
another breadwinner unemployed, with little chance of getting another job,” is
going to have consequences beyond the family unit.
“I think it has
individual impact, family impact, and community impact. When an entire island
has been based on one particular industry for 100 years or longer, for that to
disappear, there’s a whole mourning process that goes on,” McKenna said. “But
it’s mixed. Probably as many people are glad it’s gone.”
practice includes the Ke Ala Pono chemical-dependency clinic, said a community
mourning period is normal and healthy when an island with limited job
opportunities loses the largest leg of what was once the island’s most
“I think, when people lose their job, if somebody’s
been in a job 10, 20, 30 years, there’s a mourning process that goes on that’s
very typical to other mourning processes,” he said. “People are denying that
it’s happening initially, and then angry about it happening, and finally
accepting it and then trying to move on.
“I guess the question is, with
people who’ve spent their whole lives on Kaua’i and have limited education and
limited skills, where are they going to move on to?”
McKenna said Amfac
should seek out professionals who specialize in going into workplaces and
talking to workers, helping prepare them for the inevitable day when Amfac will
no longer offer them employment — which for some has come already, and for
many more will come in just about a month, or less than a week before
It would be helpful to the workers to learn what they can do
now to prepare for that day, and to get them to talk about their feelings about
the transition, McKenna said.
“Let them explore their feelings about the
closing and losing their job, and explore some options. Let them know what’s
going to happen to them, and ways to deal with that more effectively than, for
instance, turn to the bottle or start using drugs or get despondent,” he
Apparently, what McKenna calls “primary prevention, or trying to
impact people before they get ill,” isn’t being explored by Amfac Sugar
Amfac officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment
about any primary prevention services the company may be providing. And a
provider of such intervention said she has had no contact from the
McKenna also worries that the fall of Amfac will shortly mean the
end of all sugar on the island.
“It’s almost the final nail in the sugar
coffin for Kaua’i,” he said. Like steel mills and coal mines closing in
Pennsylvania and other areas of the mainland, the end of sugar is going to have
a profound impact on this island, he noted.
“Communities almost go into
mourning when people are laid off and there’s no employment. Again, I think,
with people living so marginally, it’s going to have a big impact,” he
“I would expect to see more people getting depressed,” and more
people turning up at his chemical-dependency clinic with drug and alcohol
problems, he continued.
In addition to 100 workers who were furloughed last
summer, another 300 Amfac employees will be displaced by the upcoming
“Unless the community’s able to step in and provide some jobs, I
don’t know what these people are going to do. That’s 400 families, and that’s a
lot of people on this island,” said McKenna.
“The island has known for a
long time that this was going to happen. It’s happening all over the state,” he
said. “And I don’t know that the state (government) really has taken the
actions to think creatively about new industries that could be done
When McKenna came to the island in 1988, the state was talking about
aquaculture, shrimp farming and other alternatives. Those have been established
to a certain extent, he said.
“But there’s so much more that ould be done.
The state needs to be thinking about, ‘OK, what industries can we do? What
substitutions can we make, particularly on the Neighbor Islands, as sugar
closes down? Or are we just going to let the people do whatever?’
local problem, but it’s a state problem, also. But there’s been very little
foresight in thinking about new opportunities for people, when it’s been known
for at least the 12 years that I’ve been here that sugar was on the way
Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at [
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