Grants and Scholarships For Community Causes and Students

Hawaiʻi Community Foundation
COVID-19: The Hawaiʻi Resilience Fund

Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home

Kokua Kalihi Valley

For many seniors at Kokua Kalihi Valley (KKV), the beloved elder program is a lifeline to friends, movement, fresh air, and community. When the COVID-19 stay-at-home order rolled out, the group activities for the senior program had to stop. “They all became homebound,” said Megan Inada, KKV’s research and evaluation coordinator. Many have pre-existing medical conditions and fragile or nonexistent support systems; they also walk or catch the bus to attend the sessions and 98% are low income.

KKV, a federally qualified community health center that serves the ahupua‘a of Kalihi Valley, has always defined health as much more than medical care. “Everything we do is face to face,” says Merlita Compton, director of KKV’s elder program.

But with face-to-face no longer an option, KKV designed a new approach. The organization created a telehealth and social service check-in program to keep its senior population healthy and connected, both virtually, if needed, in person—from a safe distance, using appropriate PPE.

With a grant from the Hawai‘i Resilience Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, KKV’s weekly check-in program now serves more than 300 kupuna. It begins with a 30-to 45-minute phone call to assess health and wellness and determine needs for testing, food, supplies, medical care, and assistance. Not least, the calls help seniors feel cared for. And that caring connection might be the most valuable thing of all. Inada says it can make all the other assistance possible: “Right away, when they pick up the phone and they hear voices, they’ll start crying. They’re so thankful: ‘I’m so glad you’re calling! I thought you’d forgotten about me.’ It’s that relief, to hear a familiar voice. If it had been any other person, the barriers to get them the care they need might have been too difficult to overcome.”

During the calls, KKV staff also teach seniors how to be telehealth patients, which essentially puts them in touch with their doctors, should the need arise. It’s not easy when many are hard of hearing or have vision troubles, and 92% speak English as a second or third language. What gets them through? Compton has a simple answer: “It’s trust.” After the weekly phone check-in, if necessary, KKV staff put together and deliver a customized package that can include a hot meal, medicines, preferred fresh foods, and even traditional medicinals like ‘olena (turmeric), long prized in the Pacific for its therapeutic qualities. If ‘olena goes in, they’ll tuck lemons in the bag, too, says Merlita, “so they can drink their tea. It’s good for their health.”

This pilot program, one of the first of its kind, could become a model for other organizations like it. Says Inada, “We’re really excited about the work. Of course, everyone wants this [crisis] to end, but we’re understanding how we can connect to our community in a different way, and really pay attention to the nonmedical needs that we know are related to our medical needs—this is something we need to do, if we are going to keep people safe.”

Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home
Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home
Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home
Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home
Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home
Keeping Kupuna Healthy — at Home

Photo credits: Philip Racsa and Merlita Compton