When duty calls, county relies on BEST

Life’s Bridges Hawai‘i, a non-profit organization that provides support for surviving family members of accident victims, celebrated its one year anniversary this month.

“In October of 2007 we responded to nine calls,” said co-founder and program administrator, Gina Kaulukukui. “It’s only the second week of October and we’ve already been called nine times — that’s how pivotal we’ve become.”

This week alone volunteers responded to all four drownings on Kaua‘i with their Bridges Emergency Support Team.

“The chief of police dispatches us as soon as they dispatch officers,” Kaulukukui said.

With only six volunteers, each emergency must be assessed before sending help.

“First off we try to get as much information as possible from dispatch,” she said. “Once we know if it’s a heart attack, a drowning or if a child is involved we know how many volunteers are needed.”

The emergency support team is the offspring of Kaua‘i Hospice.

“Hospice did an out-sourcing of this program in 2007,” she said.

At that time it was called the “beeper team.” Today the team goes by the acronym, BEST.

“Firefighters and paramedics would say, ‘you’re the best’ when we’d show up,” she said.

Once the team has assessed the incident, volunteers approach family members letting them know that they are there specifically to offer support.

“It’s especially traumatic on those who’ve witnessed a family member drowning,” she said.

What her volunteers do is attend to the body of the family member by placing a pillow beneath the head and covering them with a blanket.

“We recreate the last image of their loved one in a very gentle way,” Kaulukukui said. “The ritual of saying good-bye to the body is an important part of beginning the healing process.”

Another small offering is how volunteers encourage family members to ritualize this moment by creating tokens of remembrance.

“We take locks of hair from their loved one,” she said. “Or make a hand print with paint.”

The shock of suddenly losing a loved one leaves family members incapacitated and unable to make decisions — especially when they are visitors a long way from home.

“We try to empower them,” she said. “They can’t choose what’s happening — the death of a loved one.”

Volunteers usher the bereaved through the process following a trauma, which includes choosing a mortuary. But on an even more immediate note, families are generally paralyzed by shock and need to be nurtured at the most elementary level.

“We bring food and cold bottles of water — sometimes they are standing for hours under the sun,” she said. “This is a holistic approach spiritually, emotionally and physically.”

Kaulukukui said Kaua‘i is one of few places that has the partnerships that BEST does.

“Kaua‘i is doing amazing things.” she said. “Our volunteers have even done field training for terrorist attacks.”

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com


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