New Life For Mahelona

Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital (and its sister facilities on Kauai) was practically bankrupt until Scott McFarland stepped in last year and led an amazing financial turnaround

Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital (SMMH) is approaching its centennial anniversary, and like a phoenix rising from troublesome financial ashes, the state facility has a reason to celebrate the coming years — thanks to Scott McFarland.

“We’re getting ready for our next 100 years,” says the interim chief executive officer for Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, which includes SMMH, Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital and four primary care clinics.

McFarland took the hospital’s financial reins in 2013, and brought back stability so that its focus could be redirected to quality and compassionate caregiving. It wasn’t easy, however, starting with a measly $11,000 in a dwindling bank account.

“I was willing to navigate the tricky financial path forward,” he notes.

The combination of his diligent efforts and assistance from Kauai’s legislators — Sen. Ron Kouchi, Rep. Derek Kawakami, Rep. James Tokioka and Rep. Dee Morikawa — translated to $9.4 million in emergency funds appropriated to the facilities.

“I’m unconsciously competent at helping people through chaos and managing through crisis,” says McFarland.

Throughout the turmoil, he was able to retain a positive frame of mind.

“When an organization is experiencing this type of financial constriction, you’ve got to be upbeat,” he says. “I’m an eternal optimist. Nothing gets me down.”

He assures that the medical facilities have no chance of closing.

“I will not let that happen,” he states. SMMH was founded by Samuel Mahelona, son of Emma Kauikeolani Napoleon Mahelona Wilcox, who died of tuberculosis at a young age. Mahelona originally designated the establishment as a tuberculosis treatment center, but the facility changed its focus to long-term, 24-hour care during the mid-1900s, and added treatment programs for patients afflicted with mental illnesses. SMMH houses approximately 56 residents, but it can accommodate up to 66. KVMH also is a long-term facility and can accommodate up to 20 residents.

“This may be the only place some of our residents can go, and that’s why it’s so important to keep these facilities open and to keep them vibrant,” says McFarland.

The team of employees at SMMH — nurses, nursing assistants and physical therapists — has a strong interest in keeping residents’ lives just as vibrant. There are many regular activities they can take part in, such as spending time at Lydgate Beach Park, and at ethnic food celebrations like the Filipino Fiesta.

“You really want to bring diversity and excitement into their daily lives,” says McFarland.

The exercise enthusiast and co-owner of Kauai Athletic Club always has tended to gravitate toward health care and enriching the value of people’s lives. He was instrumental in bringing SilverSneakers (a senior exercise program) to insurance companies nationwide in 2005, when he was working for Healthways, a wellness company. It was important to McFarland to help seniors stay active in their later years to delay the onset of chronic diseases, so clients benefit from a “no-cost” fitness center membership through Medicare Advantage plans. A network of fitness centers across America was developed that offered SilverSneakers classes, and when he left Healthways, the program had generated more than $232 million in revenue.

“I thought it was a natural to marry a group-exercise program with an insurance product. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be as big as it has become,” he admits.

But before gaining national acclaim for the innovative program, McFarland grew up on a farm in Indiana, where his parents raised livestock and grew grain. He majored in agricultural economics at Purdue University and attended law school at Drake University. He practiced law for many years, and represented hospitals by making sure they were under proper administrative compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Spending so much time in hospitals offered him an opportunity to help improve people’s lives by avoiding the onset of chronic disease.

“I saw so much chronic disease driven by physical inactivity, not managing stress the right way, smoking and not eating the right way,” he says.

McFarland transitioned from law in 2003, and started a company called SimplyWell before accepting a position at Healthways, followed by a stint as president of wellness with Cleveland Clinic, where he continued to help motivate people to take better care of themselves.

But the fast-paced, career-driven lifestyle was overwhelming, and McFarland needed to slow down. He had his sights set on the Garden Isle, where he has been living with his husband Josh Nations (co-owner of Kauai Athletic Club), since 2010. They married last Christmas Eve.

“It was time for a bit of a rest,” he says.

Yet the entrepreneur and financial guru doesn’t seem to have slowed down. He even had a brief stint as Dow AgroSciences’ community outreach manager — a job from which he didn’t expect quite so much backlash, particularly through social media, claiming that he served as their lawyer (not true).

“It came on like a tsunami,” he says, regarding the controversy surrounding Bill 2491.

His days of representing seed companies are behind him for now, and his focus is on the lives of the residents of SMMH and KVMH, a role he never expected but loves every moment of.

“I really regard these folks as an extension of my family,” he says.