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Healing Hands

New therapy training program on Molokai.

It’s not often you see Molokai women donning plastic aprons and latex gloves, armed with a tray of surgical-like instruments. They were preparing to learn anatomy and physiology in a hands-on lab as part of an intensive year-and-a-half course that will produce 16 certified physical, speech and occupational therapy aides by its end.

Hosted by Wai Ola O Hina, a health-care services organization located in the Moore Center in Kaunakakai, the Therapeutic Activity Aide Certification (TAAC) program comes to Molokai as the first of its kind. Envisioned by Jodie Diener, Wai Ola O Hina project manager, the course seeks to educate participants in multiple therapies, while advancing long-term care and developing Molokai’s workforce.

“The entire program is centered around our kupuna,” Diener said. “It’s time we give back to them.”

Hard Work Pays Off
With Molokai setting the pace as the pilot, the program’s students have completed their first semester of the course, and are due to graduate in spring 2011.

“They are an amazing, motivated group,” said Nahiwa Naki, the program’s support assistant. “They all passed [their first semester].”

Designed by Hawaii-based therapists and a medical student, the curriculum incorporates classes such as human development, medical terminology and therapeutic activities. While these classes are taken at University of Hawaii Maui College, Molokai, formerly known as Molokai Educational Center, the labs are conducted at the Wai Ola O Hina office. Some of the courses are even taught by Molokai therapists and the island’s sole occupational therapist, Susan Peabody.

“We wanted to use in-kind workers and teachers,” Diener said. “We wanted to keep it Molokai.”

While some students are already Certified Nurse Assistants, others are single mothers, and first-time college-level students.

Tina Matthews said she signed up for TAAC because she cares for her grandmother, and wanted to further develop those skills.

“The beginning was overwhelming but it gets better,” Matthews said. “I definitely want to pursue more after it’s done.”

Once completed, TAAC graduates will have the opportunity to work for local hospitals and health clinics as aides to professional therapists.

“I’m always trying to challenge myself and expand my knowledge,” said student Larissa Gorospe. “Education like this is limited on Molokai, that’s why this is so exciting.”

Road to Success

Although it is proving to be a success, the program went through some hurdles before being approved by UH Maui College’s curriculum board. Diener said after about two and a half years of having to re-shape the curriculum and find instructors, the program was actualized.

Na Pu`uwai and the Molokai Rural Health Association, both partners of Wai Ola O Hina, provided grants for the course and donated money to help renovate the office space, which will accommodate a new wet lab and physical therapy equipment by the end of the month.

When Wai Ola O Hina was first launched in November 2008, Diener said she never imagined it progressing this far. She said the ultimate vision is to eventually incorporate a registered nurse and licensed practical nurse training program – which is currently not offered on the island.

“People would be all over that,” added Naki. “It would be a milestone for Molokai.”

Multi-Faceted
Along with health care training, Wai Ola O Hina offers an array of other health services including long-term care information, referrals and disease navigation.

Three times a week a physical therapist from Maui comes to work with patients on Molokai at the office. Other therapies offered include speech and occupational.

For more information on Wai Ola O Hina services and educational opportunities call 553-4411.

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