HGEA Members on Molokai: Small Community, Big Challenges
On Molokai, with a population of 7,345 residents, the community sometimes feels forgotten and misunderstood by policy makers on Oahu. While sometimes frustrating, that sense of being on their own inspires friends and neighbors to come together and help each other.
In one colorful example of that community spirit, registered nurse and Unit 9 member Louise “Lulu” Linker shows off the brightly painted immunization room at the State Department of Health, Maui District Health Office, at the Molokai Civic Center. Linker says one of their clients volunteered her time and talents to paint the room with cheery colors, letters of the alphabet, and fruit and animals.
Linker explains that pictures on the walls help children feel more at ease and can distract them while getting their vaccines. She says the nurses also use letters and pictures as an assessment tool while talking to young patients and their parents.
Linker and her staff’s community outreach have enabled them to help more people with medical needs, sometimes saving patients from financial ruin. By going into the community, they learn that some people suffering from devastating illness don’t know how to complete complex and confusing Medicare and Medicaid forms. “Some people don’t know they are eligible and the paperwork can be complicated — we’ve seen terminal cancer patients paying $1,000 a month out of pocket for their medicine, “ says Linker. “By training more of our staff, getting out in the community and partnering with the hospital, we are making a difference in the quality of people’s lives.”
Although the staff’s efforts are making improvements, Linker and others in the community say decision-makers in Honolulu often forget about their unique situation and needs. Many are upset that the Molokai unemployment office is no longer staffed. Its sole employee retired in February. Since then the State decided not to fill the position and directed residents to use the internet to file claims. This is frustrating or close to impossible for those in this rural community who have limited and often spotty internet access.
Unit 3 member Arlene Keanini, a tax clerk, is the only employee in the island’s State Department of Taxation. She worries that when she retires, her position won’t be filled and the people of Molokai won’t have anyone on the island to ask questions regarding state tax filings and forms. She says with recent tax changes, state offices on all islands have been swamped with calls and wait times are long. “We worry about our friends and neighbors,” says Keanini. “Many people here don’t have computers or don’t know how to use them. Even if they go to the public library, there is a one-hour limit. They can’t figure out what forms they need to fill out before their time is up.” She worries that without help, many people won’t get the services that they need.
“We are a small island community with unique challenges,” said Keanini. “And there are just a few of us who work for government. That’s why it helps to have the support of the HGEA — with the union by our side, we have a stronger voice to advocate for us and our community.”