christina higa holding up award
Christina Higa

For the past 11 years, the Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center (PBTRC) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has provided vital telehealth assistance to meet the health needs of underserved populations throughout Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.

PBTRC’s outstanding work in advancing telehealth through education, training and strategic planning, has earned them and co-director Christina Higa the 16th annual Supporting the Safety Net Award from the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP). The national award, the first for a Hawaiʻi community-based organization, was presented to Higa at the ACAP CEO Summit in Washington, D.C. on October 28. Higa was also honored with a $1,000 donation to go toward the program’s UH Foundation account.

“It is an honor to receive this award for PBTRC and UH as it highlights the strong partnerships and value of our UH faculty and programs in our communities,” said Higa, a faculty member in the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences. “I work with many individual champions who are very passionate and driven to make a difference, including my awesome team at UH Telecommunications and Social Informatics (TASI) Research Program and PBTRC.”

PBTRC serves the most underserved, rural and asset-limited populations, offering service to two million people spread across an ocean area slightly larger than the size of the continental U.S. The complex region has unique challenges to healthcare access including major geographic isolation and separation by ocean, a critical shortage of primary and specialty care, extremely high costs of travel and broadband, smaller populations and differing political and cultural environments.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare disparities that often complicate access to care, we watched telehealth fill critical gaps,” said ACAP CEO Margaret A. Murray. “In PBTRC’s service area—where seeking care at any time might require travel by boat or plane—Ms. Higa and her team provide a vital service, [to work towards] ensuring that every person can access the care they need. We’re thrilled to honor their tireless efforts.”

AlohaCare nomination

ACAP member plan AlohaCare nominated PBTRC and Higa for the national award for their crucial role in helping to make telehealth services accessible and significantly improving telehealth access for its members with Medicaid and the providers who care for them.

AlohaCare wrote, “Ms. Higa is someone who has been told she can be too optimistic, but that just makes her dig deeper into the details to make things work. She says, ‘I just want to make a difference and do the best I can to help people. That’s what drives a lot of us, the desire to want to make the world a better place.’ And that is exactly what they’re doing.”

“Mahalo to AlohaCare for the nomination and ACAP for the recognition of those who are dedicated to creating and supporting the safety net for people who need help,” Higa added.

More on Higa

Higa has served as co-director of PBTRC in the College of Social Sciences Social Science Research Institute since 2014. She also serves as associate director of the TASI Research Program/Pacific Health Informatics and Data Center. An alumna of UH Mānoa, she earned her PhD in communication and information sciences, and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications.

This recognition is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.