The Kaua‘i District Health Office was one of the first to provide translated educational COVID-19 materials.
Among its staff, the KDHO has the ability to communicate in ‘olelo Hawai‘i, Tagalog, Marshallese, Ilocano, Spanish and others.
Public Health Educator Blanca Gil Lopez, the newest addition to the Chronic Disease Prevention Team, joined KDHO last year, which includes the Language Access and Health Promotion Programs.
“We are a team of four ESL women with different cultural backgrounds but encouraged by the same goal: to alleviate barriers to access health information and services, and support Kaua‘i communities in achieving the best possible health we all deserve,” Gil Lopez said.
Community Health Worker and Bilingual Health Services Assistant Duquesa Padamada assists with completing medical applications and screenings, sharing health information and COVID-10 contact tracing, as well as translating materials in Ilocano and Tagalog.
“The experiencing during this pandemic is very challenging times, I’ve seen a lot of emotional distress especially among those who work in the hospitality industry, or those who lost their place due to lack of income,” Padamada said. “But, we try and provide support to access the resources that are available to everyone in the community.”
Working alongside Padamada is Community Health Worker Pualei Kaohelaulii, who helps support limited and non-English speaking families through empowering them.
“I experience a lot of stress seeing people in my community losing their job and medical,” Kaohelaulii said. “I can feel for them, what they are going through. I try to help by connecting them to the unemployment for financial help and assist them in accessing other services for medical, food access.”
Karlyse Hesly, a contractor with the District Health Office, works as a bilingual health aide and community health worker for the Marshallese community.
Hesly unwinds by trying to balance what’s good for everyone with the outcome, and sometimes that’s not always easy.
“Like everyone else, I have family and friends that I want to keep safe during the pandemic,” Hesly said. “I wanted to visit a friend who was sick and in critical condition, but I could not because I did not want to expose them to COVID-19 disease. I stayed in touch and was hoping to see her after this all pass… but my friend passed away, and I cannot go to their funeral because there is higher risk in gatherings. The pandemic affects all of us in many different ways.”
And the KDHO is made up of many more important people.
There’s the Public Health Nursing Staff, made up of four nurses, a licensed practical nurse, supervisor, office assistant and secretary, Kat Agena said. This group has experience ranging from over 30 years to one week. Some of their projects include tuberculous testing, Hansen Disease Case management, immunization clinics and assisting with disease outbreaks. They help with emergency preparedness and community education, too.
Part of their job is to initiate contact tracing and investigations.
“Many times there are challenges with conducting investigations and tracing when persons are not cooperative and with non-compliant attitudes regarding this pandemic,” Agena said. “We do our best to educate/support their physical health as well as their emotional well-being.”
Often times, for KHDO, work extends outside of the regular 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. day and into weekends for these folks. Personnel has helped with mobile team deployment testing, targeted and surge testing, public education and community events and outreach.
Madeleine Hiraga-Nuccio is the Center Chief at the Kaua‘i Family Guidance Center, which is also under the KDHO. There are six care coordinators, a clinical psychologist, and a child and adolescent psychiatrist who help young adults and children with emotional, mental and behavioral health issues.
“People are sometimes confused by our name,” Hiraga-Nuccio said. “We focus on providing intensive mental health treatment and case management services to the children and families of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.”
During the pandemic, Hiraga-Nuccio said there has been a “heightened interest in and willingness to seek out mental health treatment services.”
“Because so much now takes place virtually in telehealth connections, we are able to provide support and services to many more people, even in isolated areas of our island and our state,” Hiraga-Nuccio noted.
Gil Lopez praised the work of the entire team.
“The KDHO crew puts 150% and more into each project,” Gil Lopez said. “There is so much thought, hard work, and coordination involved in each activity implemented by our office, all programs work together and keep the health of the communities as the main priority.”
And this work is only possible with the island’s cooperation.
“But, as this pandemic has shown us, our best success is always when the community is involved and each one is doing their part to keep one another safe.”