Last June, Kohala Hospital staff and members of the North Kohala community took a whack at demolition during a “wall-breaking” ceremony to make way for a new hospital emergency room. Today, as the ER reconstruction continues, a loyal family of supporters is still there to faithfully push forward with fundraising.
“The building is 50 years old,” said Amar. “So the efficiency that was created 50 years ago is not what we have now. The building needs to keep up with what is going on now in health care—even simple things like adding more electric outlets.”
Located more than 25 miles from the next neighboring hospital or 150 miles by helicopter to Oahu, Kohala Hospital is a lifeline to residents of the close-knit former sugar cane plantation community.
“This is my first major project as hospital administrator,” said Gino Amar, who took the position in July 2012. As a lifelong North Kohala resident, Amar has a unique tie to the new ER space – it once was the hospital delivery room where he was born. “I accept the kuleana,” he said, “but we couldn’t do this project without a lot of helping hands and cooperation.”
With $2.2 million in state funding, more than $400,000 from the Kohala Hospital Charitable Foundation and grant-making assistance from the North Kohala Resource Center, the hospital ER project will add four treatment rooms, a new nurses station, a triage area, an ADA-compliant restroom, a physician’s work area, storage and more to the hospital, which is a 28-bed facility with 24 long-term care residents on the hospital grounds.
With completion planned for this summer, the new emergency room will be located in the rear of the present building, opposite from the hospital’s main entry area. New ambulance entry drive and covered parking are also in the construction plan.
“The importance of the ER moving is not just in having four more rooms,” said Amar.
The new location will allow the hospital to designate separate areas for long-term residents, outpatient treatment and emergency care, creating a more cohesive and efficient environment, according to Amar. Treatment “bays” will have built-in cardiac monitors, as well as sliding glass doors—instead of curtains—to enhance patients’ privacy.
“It’s better for infection control, for the residents’ peace and quiet, security for staff, residents and families,” he said. “We had a good ER, and now we’re going to take it where it needs to be for efficiency, safety and benefit for all.”
A much-needed addition
The present ER treats approximately 150-160 patients each month according to Amar and Janet Schmidt, chief nurse.
“If those 150 patients are spread out evenly, we have no problems doing what we do,” said Schmidt. “But we are a small community, and there are times when a lot of people might come and congregate … The new emergency room space will provide a larger waiting room and area for people to gather.”
Schmidt said that a committee comprised of nursing and medical department staff, as well as emergency medics and firefighters designed the floor plan. The process went through several drafts, and took about six months to complete. Because of the new layout, Schmidt plans to recruit at least three registered nurses for the team’s 24-hour, seven-days-a-week coverage.
“People here wear a lot of different hats,” said Amar. “We have very caring people—very engaged, very concerned about the safety and care of the residents and patients.”
He said that upgrades like this project are much-needed and long overdue.
Take Kohala Hospital into the future
According to Dr. Barry Blum in a 2011 Stephens Media article on the hospital’s history, a nurse spearheaded the original Kohala Hospital when it opened April 1, 1917. At the time, Mina Robinson, a medical, surgical and maternity nurse, arrived from Australia to “take charge” of the hospital. The cost of hospitalization at that time was $1.50 per day. The hospital moved to its present location in 1962.
According to the Kohala Hospital Charitable Foundation website, the hospital went into a “holding pattern” in 1975 when Kohala Sugar was closed, and in 2002, the state Legislature proposed closing Kohala Hospital. A grassroots effort by concerned community members resulted in creation of KHCF, which has raised over $400,000 for the hospital to date.
“This Kohala community is so awesome,” said Amar. “Once they bite into a project, they are going to do it … The foundation determined the ER was a goal and ran with it. They got people excited; they got people engaged.”
Furthering their mission, the KHCF will host its 6th Annual Golf Tournament at the Hapuna Golf Course on Saturday, Feb. 15. The format is a four-person team scramble, with an 8 a.m. shotgun start. The winning team receives $600, with cash prizes for second, third and fourth paces, plus trophies (sponsored by John Waterson Painting and West Hawaii Concrete) and other prizes for men’s and women’s longest drive and closest-to-the-pin.Sponsored by the Meinardus Family and the Bitburger Brewery, all of tournament proceeds will go directly to the Emergency Room Building Fund.
“It has grown every year,” said tournament organizer Betty Meinardus. “The last two years raised $35,000 and $37,000.”
“We put Kohala Hospital on the map,” said Meinardus lightheartedly. “Before, in Kona for example, they didn’t even know there was a hospital.”
“For the first four or five years we were telling the same story over and over again, about how we were getting permits and plans together,” she said. “And then suddenly everything came together. They tore down the walls and you can really see something is happening!”
In addition to the golf tournament, KHCF hosts the successful “Beer, Boots, Brats and Barbeque” event at Kahua Ranch, which in 2013 raised more than $99,000 for the emergency room.
Meinardus and her husband Michael, who works for Bitburger Brewery, have been Hawi residents for about 10 years. The couple was inspired to help the hospital when Michael Meinardus first visited for a procedure. His wife approached the foundation with the idea for a golf tournament fundraiser. Although she is not a golfer and had never put a tournament together, the event has been successful year after year. It’s also a family affair for the Meinardus ‘ohana as their children and grandchildren come to help out.
“I wanted to instill in the kids and the grandchildren, from when they were small, that they are very, very lucky and have to do something to give back,” said Meinardus.
The popular tournament brings in golfers from around the island as well as mainland visitors who plan their vacations around the event.
“Of the 144, most are repeat golfers, and very dedicated to this,” said Meinardus. “Most have been with us from the beginning and they come back every year … It’s mind-boggling, humbling actually,” she said. “When they say, ‘See you next time,’ it gives me the energy to keep going.”
“I’m excited just thinking how the area where I was born is going to be the emergency room now,” said Amar. “I’m excited because we have the support of the community—they’re the ones who donated money to the foundation and created momentum for the project. We’d like to follow through and keep that momentum going.”
For registration, hole sponsorship or donation, contact Betty Meinardus, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 889-5304, or visit kohalahospitalgolf.com for any other information.