Luau wraps Mahelona centennial celebration

KAPAA — Personal anecdotes from dignitaries enhanced the appreciation demonstrated by guests and residents at Saturday’s 100th anniversary celebration at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital.

“You remember Eddie Medeiros?” said Mel Rapozo, the Kauai County Council chair. “He was my grandpa, and he had tuberculosis.”

Mahelona Hospital, part of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation Kauai Region, was founded as one of the first hospitals on the island by the Planter’s Association. It is named for Samuel Mahelona, the son of Emma Kauikeolani Napoleon Mahelona Wilcox, who died young of tuberculosis. The hospital was designed to serve tuberculosis patients on Kauai.

“There were a lot of people who came here,” said George Mukai, president of the Mahelona Hospital Auxiliary, who has seen the building of additional structures to accommodate the growing number of patients and services.

Several hundred people from the community gathered for an evening of merriment and celebration, highlighted by the singing of “Happy Birthday” by SMMH resident Ed Kenny of Mr. Waikiki fame while guests dined on heavy pupu provided by Aaron’s Kitchen and community volunteers.

Kealoha Takahashi, executive director of the county’s Agency on Elderly Affairs and Kauai’s representative on aging, represented Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who is in Japan with the goodwill Kauai Yankees baseball team.

“Hello, Grace Delos Reyes. Hello, Eugene,” Takahashi said. “Eugene is a resident here. Grace works for us — even our agency is beneficiary to what Mahelona Hospital does.”

As tuberculosis was cured, the hospital has made a number of transitions. In 1961, Mahelona started admitting persons with acute mental illness, and a separate psychiatric unit was opened in 1983.

“I’m back,” said Colleen McCracken, a nurse with the Mahelona Hospital Psychiatric Unit. “I was at the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital for four years, but now I’m back.”

McCracken started at Mahelona Hospital as a dietician and made adjustments to the transitional changes in community needs and services.

Rapozo described the fight by Kauai’s legislators and the governor to find funding to keep the HHSC hospitals operational.

“Here on Kauai, we are fortunate to have two hospitals,” said state Rep. Dee Morikawa, House majority floor leader. “We need to get the funding to support both hospitals.”

In October 1986, Mahelona Hospital expanded services with the start of Ka Ea Hou Mahelona Hospice for terminally ill patients. Former staff quarters were converted into a hospice facility with privacy and ocean views. As hospice care became more accepted, the program was moved out of the hospital with an independent organization taking over the program.

The facilities were transformed into the East Kauai Walk-in Clinic — Medical Office Building, with Drs. Emmet McEleney, Robert Warnock and Gilbert Hagar leasing space for their practices.

It continues to serve as a specialty clinic under the West Kauai Clinics, focusing on the East and North Shore communities with Drs. Graham Chelius, Elisabeth Biuk, Connie Lutkevich and Narreinar Williams providing their respective expertise in family medicine, general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology on certain days throughout the month.

Additionally, outpatient services such as radiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy and laboratory services are available for Eastside and North Shore residents.

“Uncle Takemoto spent some time here under the care of the tremendous staff,” said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura. “When my son fell from his bicycle and hurt himself, he was helped with his injuries by Mahelona Hospital. And Mahelona Hospital is a place where the All Saints Church and Preschool can come and sing Christmas carols.”

Recent capital funding started improvement project such as the rebuilding of the multi-purpose room, beautification and resurfacing of driveway and parking areas.

“We appreciate the $10,000 donation from Joyce Nishimura and the Okimoto family,” said Josie Pablo, the hospital’s recreation director. “Without these types of contributions, the multi-purpose room would just be four walls. The contribution helped us get curtains for the windows and paintings from Marcia Ishii Minnichhofer to give this room a sense of place. Joyce’s mother was a resident here, and she would come from Washington state to visit.”

Peter Klune, the HHSC Kauai Region CEO, acknowledged the quality of care offered by the hospital’s crew, which transformed the courtyard into a setting befitting the celebration.

“Our staff has been great in providing quality health care to take care of the needs of our community,” he said. “As we move into the next 100 years, we need to look for more services for the ever-growing needs in the community.”

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