Happy 95th To Mahelona Hospital

Birthday bash committee members (from left) Val Caminos, Jennifer Mariano, Myra Ornellas, Colleen McCracken, Josie Pablo and Sharla Hasegawa. Coco Zickos photo

Employees, volunteers and residents celebrate nearly a century of care as well as new ER services

Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital is celebrating its 95th birthday this year.

And what’s a birthday celebration without cake? The hospital was complete with food and festivities for residents and guests to enjoy late last month during its 95th anniversary party. Josie Pablo, director of recreational therapy, was excited to see so many people enjoying themselves at the b-day bash, especially the hospital’s long-term-care residents.

“Their reactions to the activities we do for them are so rewarding,” she says.

The smile on one resident’s face, Henrietta Boynton, was evidence of Pablo’s mission accomplished.

Even though she spear-headed the luau, complete with hula and musical entertainment, Pablo says she couldn’t have done it with her committee members.

“I love it here — this is like my second home,” she says. “I work with great people, great employees who allow me to coordinate events like this.”

This year’s birthday party isn’t the only activity that has kept Pablo busy. She also is responsible for the many programs and events that occur throughout the year, such as the annual bon dance and summer swimming trips.

“It’s like a signature for Mahelona,” she says regarding the swimming adventure where some 40 residents are taken to Lydgate Beach Park to enjoy the day.

Visitors and residents enjoy the birthday festivities

The residents and more than 100 staff members at Mahelona are the reason Pablo has stayed committed to her job for 26 years.

“You get to know them and they become attached to you. The people who work here and the residents are the core people, and that’s why I’m here.”

The hospital was founded in 1917 and was originally designated as a tuberculosis treatment center in commemoration of Samuel Mahelona, son of Emma Kauikeolani Napoleon Mahelona Wilcox, who died of the disease at a young age.

The facility shifted its focus during the 1950s and 1960s to long-term, 24-hour care and also implemented treatment programs for patients afflicted with mental illnesses.

The state-run institution is the only psychiatric hospital on the island and has the ability to house up to 66 residents.

“This is their home, this is where they live,” says Pablo of the residents who can no longer care for themselves at home.

A 24-hour emergency room was added to Mahelona in the mid-2000s as a continued effort to meet the health care needs of the community.

Volunteers Asako Iwamoto and Betty Matsumura

“We felt that, on this side of the island, from Hanalei to Kapa‘a, there has to be some kind of urgent care,” says Pablo. “People don’t have to go all the way to Wilcox for emergency services.”

The success and growth of the hospital could not be accomplished without 40 regular volunteers.

Members of the Mahelona Auxiliary were honored at last month’s celebration for their continued efforts at the hospital, including offering assistance at the thrift store and providing Christmas presents to residents every holiday season.

“There is a feeling of home here,” says Pablo, whose daughter Veronica also participated at the birthday party performing hula for the residents and guests.

“We don’t want to just find the residents looking at the walls; we keep them going and have something to look forward to,” she says.

There are many aspirations Mahelona staff has for the hospital’s future.

“I would love to see a new building,” says the hospital’s administrator Myra Ornellas regarding the Kapa‘a structure that was built in the 1950s. “It’s something we always hope for.”

Ornellas is one of the many long-term staff members who enjoys caring for the residents who come to Mahelona not only from Kaua‘i, but from other islands and the Mainland as well.

“This hospital has been where I grew up in health care and it’s been very good to me,” she says. “It really has become part of my life.

“The people I work with and the residents themselves, they’ve become part of my family.”