Much more than a day at the beach

After a dip in the sea at Lydgate Beach Park, Kimo Martinez lays prone on a virtual wheeled throne surrounded by girls right out of a Gauguin painting. Today is the first of two beach outings of the summer for residents of Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital and there’s a dozen excited bathers waiting for their turn in the water. After being rinsed of saltwater at the outdoor shower, amid bursts of laughter and teasing, Martinez is toweled dry and bundled up to keep warm, his big smile and bright eyes framed by terry cloth.

With three “dune buggy” wheelchairs with “bubble tires” the staff of the hospital will trundle their precious cargo through deep sand and into Lydgate’s protected pool. Outfitted in a flotation device, passengers are lifted onto a floating lounge chair and taken for a spin around the pool.

“Beautiful day,” said Martinez afterwards over lunch. “No rain. It started, but it cleared. Beautiful.”

Martinez is just one of the 41 residents living permanently at the hospital on the hill overlooking Kealia. For 22 years recreational therapist Josie Pablo has orchestrated this outing for her Mahelona ‘ohana.

“It started with 10 residents and we’d just take them to swim,” Pablo said.

Today Pablo’s little outing has flourished into a tailgate party at the beach with not just four times as many residents, but the inclusion of Kaua‘i organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Kaua‘i Community College nursing students and the Kaua‘i Bus to lend a hand in this grand undertaking.

Beneath the pavilion at Lydgate on Tuesday many hands joined to give the residents in the hospital’s long term nursing facility a day like any other for many of us.

“You and I go to the beach,” Pablo said. “Why can’t they go?”

This is the first outing of the summer. The next one in August will include Okinawan students here on cultural exchange. Joining Pablo in her mission are the hospital’s dietary, nursing, physical therapy, recreational and occupational therapy departments, groundskeepers and Mahelona Auxiliary.

The day includes all the ingredients of a family outing — sandy feet, board shorts and a picnic lunch in the shade of the pavilion. Were someone led through this crowd blind-folded they’d hear only the cooing and laughter of children followed by gentle admonitions to “eat slowly Daniel” or “you look tired, is it your nap time?”

Assistant Administrator of the hospital Karen Davis has never seen anything like this in her 40 years of working in nursing homes.

“Josie plans this for a year ahead,” Davis said. “The staff is like one big family. There are staff members who take their vacation days just to do this — they probably get more joy than the residents.”

The hospital was recognized Tuesday with two awards for superior care by Mountain Pacific Quality Health.

Some 30 student nurses attend this event as part of outpatient rotations. An instructor praised their participation as providing an opportunity for students to see residents away from a hospital setting enjoying the outdoors and swimming.

Pablo gives all the credit to her staff and volunteers.

“I just coordinate,” she said. “All the credit goes to them because they want to do this with me. This is our family.”

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