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#WeAreUHPHawaii: Aloha in the Time of COVID-19

Written by Marybeth Kotrodimos
Featured photo from Manoa Cottage, one of the recipients of the PPE provided through UHP

May 26, 2020 — In this strange time of uncertainty and fear, we all feel at least a little off-balance, if not completely thrown, by sudden sweeping changes to our lives and routines.  More than ever, it has been truly inspiring to hear about all the good that people are doing to help each other through tough times.   We see them pop up online, on our phones and work computers: pictures and stories of the funny, the brave, the caring, the heartwarming, the creative, the resourceful people who are making us laugh and cry through the greatest health and economic crisis of our lifetime. These people (and their pets) inspire us, lighten our moods, and remind us that we are all in this together.

Here on our Island home, aloha, in the form of hard work and generosity, has been flowing back and forth between our UHP ‘ohana and the greater community we support. We are inspired and motivated by the people in our midst who’ve quietly stepped up to offer their time and efforts to protect our patients and support those heroes among us on the frontlines during this crisis.  We wish we knew about all of you, and we apologize to all of you who are not mentioned here, as we try to acknowledge all the good we see around us at this time.  

Kimberly Kaohi, UHP’s Clinical Operations Specialist, has been spearheading the drive to provide items needed to keep our clinics and communities safe.  At the beginning of the pandemic, Dean Jerris Hedges of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), who himself organized the UH Manoa faculty and students to sew over 2,000 masks, reached out to Kim with a request to stock up on supplies of PPE for our clinics and frontline healthcare providers who provide services for our patients.  Since then she has been working tirelessly on a very fulltime basis to provide much needed protective gear for our providers and others who so desperately need it.  She has solicited, collected, and distributed hundreds if not thousands of masks, gloves, face shields, soap, hand sanitizers and other items not only for our own clinics, but for others who so desperately need them. 

Provider Relations Representative, Sandra “Sandi” Deguchi, come into UHP’s Central Business Office every Tuesday with her ironing board to become, as she puts it, “part of the ironing brigade” with Felicia Wong of Human Resources and Julie of Medical Records. They have been giving of their time to iron the “mountain of masks” Kim had gathered which are delivered and distributed to those who need them. 

Of Kim’s Herculean efforts, Sandi said, “I witnessed firsthand how Kim scoured the Island for supplies needed to fight this virus.  I was amazed and impressed with her dedication and commitment to help whomever needed it. She is my hero!”

There’s nothing like a massive shortage to bring out the creativity and resourcefulness in people.  Kim contacted Island Beauty Supply in Kaka’ako who graciously supplied us with the hard-to-find gloves that otherwise would have been going to salons.  Used in the clinics for cleaning and other purposes not involving direct patient care, they were badly needed and much appreciated. 

Another resourceful thinker, Lily Cabral, Payment Poster at UHP, provided elastic from the lining of her bed to be used as ear loops for the masks that came without them. Patient Account Specialist, Anela Rendorio, sewed the elastic strings on the loopless masks.

Giselle, our Executive Assistant, and Julie of Medical Records have received, packed, shipped, tracked, sent emails, set up deliveries and pick-ups, and all else they could do to assist Kim in getting PPE to the people who need it.  

“My experience of receiving the gifts of masks and other PPE items was so humbling,” Julie said. “It gave me chicken skin and tears of joy knowing many front line team members and support staff would be receiving them. When I would give out PPE I felt honored to be able to pitch hit while the HIM department was slow. When I ironed the masks and packed them I put positive energy of ALOHA with every mask I touched.”

Our Accounting Director, Julia Ching; Accounting Clerk, Leslie Bajet, as well as Leslie’s mother and area sewing circles, have also made and donated masks to UHP and JABSOM.

Just this week, Julia Ching let us know that she received an email from Taipei Economic and Culture Office (T.E.C.O) in Honolulu, telling us that the Taiwan government was donating surgical masks to UHP.  In early May, Julia had asked the Taiwan Foreign Minister and TECO if they could donate masks to us after she saw a news item titled “Taiwan Can Help.”  She said the masks will arrive next week.  

United Laundry responded to Dean Hedges’ request for help by cleaning the masks that were made, collected and donated to UHP and JABSOM – for free!

Besides providing supplies to our own clinics, Kim has gotten PPE to others badly in need of it to protect those working on the frontlines.  She and her team have packaged and donated PPE to private practice physicians on Hawaii Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, and to Queen’s Wound Care Clinics in North Hawaii and Oahu, as well as the Ekahi Central Medical Clinic, UH Maintenance Facility, the Hawaii State Hospital, Manoa Cottage, and the H.O.M.E. (Homeless Outreach and Medical Education) Project.

Maui Behavioral Health Resources, an organization that serves about 8,000 people on Maui, were among the recipients of masks procured by Kim.  Because they weren’t classified as a healthcare organization with Amazon, their orders of badily needed PPE were cancelled. As they provide services in a clinical setting, as well as out in the field, this shortage impeded their ability to do their work.  Kim came to their rescue with 100 masks.  Development Director Malia Bohlin thanks UHP for this donation.

This crisis has made us aware of so many heroes. Early in the pandemic, UHP received a call from Dr. Erica Warkus, a 2020 graduate of JABSOM who started an all-volunteer non-profit organization called Kupuna Kokua which provides free masks and food which they deliver to isolated kupuna.  She contacted us to say that she had a donor with thousands of surgical masks they would donate to us.  

We extend our deepest mahalo to all of you. 

As challenging as it may be, we are honored to be working in healthcare right now.  At UHP, we all have a place and a purpose in this fight for health that is gripping our country and the world.  All of us, in whatever part we play – supporting or frontline – are essential.  

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