Island hopping for prenatal care

April 03, 2018 | GET MORE : Life

Share Article:

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn

Tax credit investment by U.S. Bank provides much-needed healthcare for expecting moms.

For years, expectant mothers have spent hundreds of dollars on ferry or airfare and at least a full day each month just to get prenatal care on the island of Lāna`i, Hawaii – until an investment by U.S. Bank helped build a new health clinic.

Before the new $7.8 million Lāna`i Community Health Center opened in Lāna`i City in 2016, pregnant women would have to get their prenatal care on neighboring Oahu or Maui – if they got any at all. That meant a full day of travel, finding a babysitter or taking along the other kids, $50 in roundtrip ferry or $250 in roundtrip airfare, rental car or taxi fares – and prayers that your obstetrics appointment didn’t get canceled. 

“If you’re a pregnant woman, it’s very difficult. It takes a toll,” said Monique Bolo, a Lāna`i resident who gave birth in 2017 to her third child, daughter Aria (pictured above; Monique is in the black jacket).

Bolo was lucky. The new health center opened in time for her to get all of her prenatal care onsite. 

“They made it 100 times easier to stay on island,” the Lāna`i native said. “Everything I needed to have done, the nurse practitioners were able to do. They see her for all her well baby checkups, all the immunizations.”

Bolo is one of the 2,010 patients who make Lāna`i Community Health Center their medical home. The number of patients has risen more than a third and the number of visits grew by half to 9,335 compared with what the clinic saw in its former location – a three-bedroom home. The kitchen was the laboratory. The garage was converted to a conference room and an open-air deck was a staff workroom. 

“For the kapuna, the elderly, it was difficult because it was up a hill and there is no public transportation,” explained Tamar deFries, a consultant who helped arrange the construction funding as part of the $2.6 million in New Markets Tax Credit equity provided by U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, a division of U.S. Bank.

Now Lāna`i Community Health Center is in the heart of town and much more accessible to the island’s 3,100 residents, said Diana Shaw, executive director of the clinic. Some 65 percent of islanders visit the clinic for medical, dental, mental health and vision care as well as fitness and wellness activities.

With the new space, Lāna`i has greatly expanded its services. Because the expansion included the purchase of a home in which doctors could stay rather than expensive tourist resorts, the clinic is attracting more providers. 

“The No. 1 reason providers wouldn’t come here is they had nowhere affordable to stay,” deFries said.

There is also space for fitness programs, which have grown from two classes a week to more than 15 now, said Bolo, who is a wellness coach at the clinic.

“Residents say, ‘You saved me. I’m not depressed anymore. I know I’m going to go to my class and I’ll feel much better during the day,’” Shaw said.

Health outcomes are also improving. The number of pregnant patients who received prenatal care in their first trimester jumped to 100 percent from 76 percent, and screenings for tobacco use rose significantly. 

Providing employment for Lāna`i residents is also important to Shaw. The clinic employs 42 islanders, providing a job option other than limited tourist-related work.

“One of our goals is to become the employer of choice,” she said. “Outside of the hotels and the school, Lāna`i is now one of the island’s biggest employers.”

Pairing improved access to health care with employment made this project a must-do tax credit investment for the bank, said Maria Bustria-Glickman, vice president of USBCDC.

“Lāna`i was an opportunity for us to help local residents access two essential needs –
dependable health care and jobs. It’s so rewarding to be a partner in this project and to be able to provide the financial support to make the health clinic a reality,” she said.

More than that, Lāna`i Community Health Center has become a place to nurture islanders’ spirits as well as their bodies, deFries said. Patients can socialize in comfortable chairs in the reception area as well as visit the traditional medicine garden full of plants that some islanders use to treat illness (and that are also approved by clinic medical providers). 

And when providers see patients, they don’t rush. The predominantly Hawaiian and Filipino culture on Lāna`i involves spending time reconnecting with each other. A 10-minute physician visit wouldn’t produce good outcomes.

“From a cultural standpoint, you are going to learn about brother, mother, sister, father, husband before you get to (the patient),” deFries explained. “That’s hard for medicine to understand. Having a place like this is priceless.”

Shera Dalin works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.