Most people travel to Hawaii for pleasure in paradise, our trip to the Big Island was strictly business. It’s a strange thing to hustling from one appointment to the next dressed in business attire when everyone around you is in vacation mode smelling of sunscreen and wearing flip-flops. Our previous visits to Hawaii mostly focused on working with First Responder groups throughout the island of Oahu and developing relationships with the Employee Assistance Programs and insurance companies such as Kaiser Hawaii and Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) which is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and largest insurer in the state of Hawaii serving more than 700,000 people. As we continue to grow our presence in Hawaii, this was our first trip to the Big Island and in four days, we covered a big chunk of it travelling up and down the windward side through Puna, Hilo, Honoka’a, and Waipio Valley…across the middle through Waimea and Mauna Kea…and down the leeward side through Waikaloa and Kona. Here is a list of some of the providers we visited:
- Hawaiian Island Recovery
- McKenna Recovery Center/ Ke Ala Pono
- The Exclusive Addiction Treatment Center
- Ku Aloha Ola Mau
- The Bay Clinic
- Lokani Treatment Centers
- HMSA Office
- U.S. Army Garrison, Pohakuloa Training Area (two-day training)
Unlike the mainland, there is a major depletion of resources in Hawaii…especially on the Big Island…with only 16 residential beds on the entire island for substance abuse treatment with most programs only offering outpatient levels of care for federally funded for low-income consumers. Everywhere we went, we heard the same message, “We need more on-island resources and we need trusted off-island partners to help our consumers.” The highlight of our trip that best illustrated this point, was our experience at the Pohakuloa Training Area located at the U.S. Army Garrison smack dab in the middle of the Big Island at the foot of the Maun Kea volcano. Our business partner, Brent Oto, invited us to a Suicide Prevention outreach workshop which provided us with the opportunity to educate people about addiction treatment and Western Regional resources available to them. Participants encompassed a mix of civilians and military personnel including Lieutenant Commanders, engineers, archaeologists, botanists and many other disciplines. At the end of each presentation, we were flooded with questions from participants who wanted to share their stories and inquire about how to get help. One participant, in particular, stood out…a former Navy Seal who was obviously tough as nails, allowed himself to be vulnerable, visibly trembling with emotion as he disclosed his problem with alcohol and realization that he needs help. To see the hope in this man’s eyes, hands shaking and eyes filled with tears, while his peers encouraged him and blanketed him with support, was confirmation that we were at the right place at the right time – definitely a heartfelt and powerful moment that reminds us why we do, what we do. Public Affairs Officer, Eric Hamilton made it a point to introduce us to the Base Commander who invited us to come back to deliver more presentations to the Army in combination with other agencies serving first-responders. A side benefit of the visit was a facility tour we received filled with the most fascinating historical events and non-classified stories of Pohakuloa’s training location. What an honor to walk the grounds where these men and women prepare themselves to risk their lives for our Country.
Our visit to Hawaii marked just the beginning of several relationships we will continue to nurture. For example, Jimmy Kayihura, Director of Admissions for Hawaiian Island Recovery, has accepted our invitation to tour Bayside Marin at the end of March. Within two weeks of our visit, we received six referrals from Big Island facilities, positioning ourselves as a mini-call center to help Hawaiian providers with their call overflow. As a result of this action-packed trip, underserved Hawaiian populations now have a bridge to resources and treatment. What a great stride in our mission to reach individuals and families in need.