KAPA‘A — The Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital drive-by visitation took place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with visitors being allowed 10 minutes with their families on a drive-by basis during an appointed time Thursday.
Just 10 minutes. How do you get across all that has happened during the past months since March when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the doors to the hospital to any visitors.
“I love you,” Grace Delos Reyes coaxed a response from Mahelona Hospital resident Eugene Delos Reyes during their short visit that included Eugene’s brother and their families announcing their arrival with Christmas carols aboard a decorated pickup truck.
Josie Pablo, the Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation, Kaua‘i Region recreation director, said this was the first time the hospital was approved to host a visitation since the pandemic started in March.
“We wanted to do this, earlier, but when the second spike took place, that event was canceled,” she said. “We also did a similar drive-by visitation at the Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. We were fortunate the COVID-19 remained under control and we could get the families reunited — especially because it’s the holidays.”
Eugene’s response was enhanced by the front entrance that was fully decorated in the spirit of the season by the hospital’s nursing staff and other departments.
“We go all out,” said Mark Lapilio who aided Lalane Rabaino in controlling the flow of traffic through the parking area for a visitation pause at the hospital’s front door. “It’s hard work, but when you see the people — I can feel the emotion from way out here — it’s all worthwhile.”
With no lack of support from the hospital, Eugene and other residents eagerly soaked up the ‘ohana messages of love.
“This is so emotional,” Pablo said. “It’s heart wrenching. But this is in a good way, and I’m so grateful that we were approved to allow this to happen. The families and residents are so happy.”
Mahelona Hospital resident Alice Taogoshi visited her family through their physical presence in the car that separated the group and through Zoom meetings. She was even allowed to cuddle with Buddy the dog who was caught up in the whirlwind of the 10-minute visit.
“I want to go home,” Taogoshi repeated several times during the short visitation interval.
“You need to get stronger,” said her son Russell Shimazu. “They take good care of you, here. They give you good food, and don’t they make sure you’re having fun? You just need to get stronger.”
Rabaino said taking care of elderly people can be very hard work.
“It’s really bad during this COVID-19,” she said. “We can’t have all of the things we used to have. The residents cannot go out, and we can’t even put them in the bus to drive around and look at all the Christmas lights. This visitation really means a lot to them. I can tell by their faces and their smiles.”
“Come on, Eugene, smile,” said Grace from the back of the pick up. “I want to see those big teeth.”
Eugene was quiet, struggling with his own emotions.
“I’m crying,” he said as the nurses surrounded him with support.