Mending the Community: Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center


What does health care look like to you? That is a question health care workers and administrators on Maui are asking themselves.

I had the privilege of talking story with Risa Mamalias, programs director at Hui No Ke Ola Pono, who shared first-hand, on-the-ground experiences of the health care situation on Maui. The work that is being done there is simply inspirational.

While devastating, the Maui fires have brought together people with the shared goal of helping the Lahaina community. The new Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center is one of those initiatives, made possible through the leadership of Heidi Taogoshi, Dr. Gerard Livaudais, and John Oliver. Staffing, services, and support involves a partnership that includes Hui No Ke Ola Pono, Mauliola Pharmacy, Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center, Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Hawaiʻi Island Community Health Center, the Maui District Office, and other volunteer health care workers.

The Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center is the realization of every patient’s dream – a one-stop health center, providing acute medical and behavioral health care, podiatry, dentistry, phlebotomy, optometry, and case management.

Medical outreach teams canvas neighborhoods and shelters to assess and meet the needs of survivors – from arranging transportation for people to get to the clinic, having prescriptions filled and delivered, helping people apply for SNAP benefits, and providing basic medical check-ups.

Local chefs are also working together to fill gaps, providing hot meals three times a day while local hubs throughout the community provide non-perishable food items so no one is going hungry.

As the weeks passed, another vital but under-looked component of health care was realized – the need for traditional Hawaiian health services. Very few Native Hawaiians were accessing the mental health services. Then lomilomi practitioners started visiting people where they were staying. While being worked on, people began sharing their worries, feelings, and prayers. One patient, after talking story with a lomilomi practitioner said, “I didn’t realize I had so much to say.”

The idea of using lomilomi practitioners as care coordinators is being explored and makes good sense. As was shared with me, our people are often uncomfortable sitting and talking to a stranger. They don’t often even realize they need any help. Experiencing the prayers, aloha, and compassionate healing touch of lomilomi practitioners, in a manner that resonates with their naʻau, opens emotional and spiritual doors and allows healing to take place – something that may never have happened otherwise. The addition of lāʻau lapaʻau services and cultural education workshops are also being explored to reach and help more Native Hawaiians.

In the process of helping others, the Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center partners are helping themselves. For the first time, health clinics are communicating and sharing financial and manpower resources.

There is a growing realization among these partners that they can do more for the health of the community when working together than by working separately. They are demonstrating to themselves and others what a coordinated and comprehensive health care system looks like. A health center that was built with the patient in mind – easy to navigate and simple to access. No waiting for your appointment or worrying about missing an appointment. No need to wait for approvals or complete or lot of paperwork. Affordable health care and that recognizes and incorporates social service needs.

This is what health care should look like.