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.”

McKenna, whose

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

important industry.

“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?’

“It’s a

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 [

HREF=””>] or 245-3681 (ext.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.