The Lau Ola Clinic in Honolulu was just a dream 10 years ago.
“The vision was to really care for Native Hawaiians,” said Dee-Ann Leialoha Carpenter, a Lau Ola Clinic physician.
That vision is now being carried out everyday thanks to the Department of Native Hawaiian Health, which established the primary care clinic. The department, which is part of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, John A. Burns School of Medicine, celebrated its 10th anniversary, but it wasn’t just a celebration. Officials also delivered a report to their stakeholders on the department’s progress and successes.
“I think because of our existence, we’ve been able to work more closely with our Hawaiian communities, as well as our Pacific Islander communities, in developing community based and community led health promotion programs, in a way of addressing overweight and obesity and diabetes, heart disease,” said department chair, J. Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula.
The Department of Native Hawaiian Health also teaches medical students to honor and work with the cultural traditions of their patients. The department also established a research center focused on Native Hawaiian health problems.
“I think it is making more of a bigger impact on peoples lives, because it is being translated into real world solutions rather than some publication in some scientific journal,” said Kaholokula. He added that hula is a great example.
“I believe we are among the first to ever scientifically examine the role that hula, our ancient Hawaiian dance, can play in helping people be healthier,” said Kaholokula.
Looking towards the future, the department wants to encourage more Hawai’i students to pursue a career in medicine by developing a stronger pipeline to local elementary, middle and high schools.
“Another thing we want to do is develop more community based health promotion programs,” said Kaholokula. “Really go up stream and not focus on disease management and focus on disease prevention.”
The department’s supporters and partners are key to previous and future successes because of their collaboration and funding. From the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to Hawaiian homestead organizations, to The Queen’s Health Care System which gave $5 million to start the department 10 years ago.
“They continue to fund a lot of our programs like Imi Hoʻōla,” said Kaholokula. “They have been our biggest supporters.”
All have made the cultural education, research, outreach programs and the Lau Ola Clinic possible. Those involved in the programs say these efforts are critical to the entire state, not just Native Hawaiians.
“When you can improve the health of Native Hawaiians, you actually improve the health of everyone in Hawai’i,” said Carpenter. “Because if you can take care of the people who are doing the worst, then all you are doing is raising the bar for everyone else.”