Behind the scenes of the Kaua‘i District Health Office

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island State

    Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office’s Blanca Gil Lopez and Cynthia Chiang man the registration station at the Stop Flu at School clinic at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihu‘e.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    State Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office’s Karlyse Hesly, Pua Kaohelauli‘i, Duquesa Padamada, Matelda Fifita and Cynthia Chiang help a guest during a houseless outreach event at the lawn of the Historic County Building in Lihu‘e.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Duquesa Padamada and Karlyse Hesly of the state Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Office distribute information on disaster preparedness and COVID-19 at Kokua No Ka ‘Ohana food distribution at Vidinha Stadium in Lihu‘e before moving to the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa food distribution for its employees in Po‘ipu.

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.”

  1. SunnyD December 10, 2020 10:52 am Reply

    Thank you for mentioning contact tracing in the island in this article. I have no doubt the Kauai doh works hard and has dedicated employees.
    What I would like to know is why are we not being informed more about the logistics of the community spread of covid? Where do people work, where were they at; grocery store, post office, etc? There is nothing in HIPPA laws preventing the county from sharing those things with our community.
    Yesterday I was grocery shopping. My once monthly trip as I am immune compromised. As I was in the isle with the Christmas baskets, it takes some time to decide so I lingered there and a local man who was clearly sick got just to my side and began coughing a wet cough into his mask. We immediately left the area but every time I turned around it seemed he was there. And he was coughing.
    All I can do now is wait. And pray.
    Other islands seem to give more information about the community spread happening.
    I think Kauai needs to come up with some way to share more with us.
    And to those people who are sick and coughing into your masks, PLEASE STAY HOME.

  2. Mr. FORD December 10, 2020 11:16 am Reply

    This is not a pandemic, it is not a plague. Just your typical evil rich people fooling the masses. Ignorance is a sin and God doesn’t lead the ignorant.

  3. I saw a Vampire once December 26, 2020 11:22 pm Reply

    We are in a pandemic. But I think it has already been proven that the pandemic has explained some few cultural barriers we have and certain relationships to this COVID-19 Disease. Lifestyle, beliefs, etc. To start off with. But I will quote on MLB in 1976 playing for the Cincinnatii Reds, Joaquin Andujar, pitcher. “You never know.” He was talking to a reporter about his pitching.

  4. Arnie Serota, MD July 26, 2021 8:49 am Reply

    We on Kauai are blessed to have the best department of health in the State. These folks are dedicated to their mission of protecting our population, whether it is a pandemic, hurricane or tsunami. They follow the science and respectfully ignore the conspiracy theory naysayers. They are wonderful people and deserve our utmost respect.

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