Hospitable Harbor

Harbor Improvement, new monk seal, health care highlight Kalaupapa meeting.

By Catherine Cluett

Barging In
For residents of the isolated peninsula of Kalaupapa, few things are more crucial than the annual barge. But the narrow harbor opening means only one barge in the state can make the trip – a situation that has the potential to leave residents in a tight place, explains National Park Superintendent Steve Prokop. That is why widening the “birthing channel”, the area where the barge passes through, may be in the cards for Kalaupapa.

“There are still a lot of hoops to jump through” to make it happen, Prokop says, adding that the earliest a change would be seen is 2012. Widening the channel would allow larger barges to enter the harbor. This would not be for the purpose of allowing passenger barges or any other service that does not already exist, Prokop assured residents.

Currently only one barge, operated by one vendor, is small enough to enter the narrow channel. This monopoly means the vendor can raise the prices without recourse, since there are no other options for Kalaupapa. Enlarging the birthing channel would make barge service to the peninsula cheaper, as well as more reliable, says Prokop.

Pier overhauls are also on the horizon. The Park Service will be handling construction below the water level, Prokop says. “The bulk head wall is close to failing,” and the underwater pilings will also need work soon, he explains.

Prokop also alerted residents to the possibility of further gas rationing (currently at five gallons per week per vehicle) in the near future. The shortage is greater than previously anticipated. The barge usually comes to the peninsula in July, but Prokop says they may try to move up the date to accommodate the gas need.

Universal Health Care
Patients are the first priority of the settlement. Their health is of primary importance. But what about those who care for them?

That’s the question Desiree Puhi, Director of Health at the Molokai Community Health Center, asked a few months ago. She says she had attended a few meetings topside about Kalaupapa and Damien tourism, and saw an increased need for public health care. She wondered how she could extend the Health Center’s services to Kalaupapa employees.

Puhi brought two of her co-workers to the monthly meeting, doctor John Engle and Darryl Salvador, a behavior health consultant. They presented the basics of a health care service plan for Kalaupapa workers — both Park Service and Department of Health employees.

The Department of Agriculture would pay for the services with a grant set aside for public health. Care for employees would cover basic sickness and injury. Health services would be provided by existing health care professionals in Kalaupapa, along with visiting topside health care professionals. Clinic hours would probably be held after normal hours so as not to interfere with patient care.

Puhi emphasized that the arrangement would be designed to in no way interfere in the priority of caring for patients in Kalaupapa. “Kalaupapa is like a family,” Puhi explained. When one member of the family gets sick, the others become more vulnerable and things don’t run as smoothly. Similarly, she says, health care for employees will also benefit patients. Services would be provided first on a trial basis.

Services would include preventative medical education, family and basic medicine, behavioral and mental counseling, prescriptions and dental coverage. Other services would be made readily available topside. The program is still in the development stages, and the trial period would allow flexibility as the need arises. Currently, employees in Kalaupapa must travel to topside for all their health care needs.

As with the Molokai Community Health Center, services would be provided to both insured and uninsured patients.

Safe Haven
Kalaupapa is home to many rare and endangered species, not the least of which is the Hawaiian monk seal – and there is a new addition to the family. KP2, a pup that was abandoned by its mother in Kauai, now calls Kalaupapa its home. Marine Ecologist for Kalaupapa, Eric Brown, has played a prominent role in monitoring monk seals on the peninsula. NOAA Marine Biologist David Schofield presented the story of KP2 to residents at the meeting.

Abandoned by an atypically un-maternal mother at the age of 24 hours, KP2 was spotted by vigilant volunteers, who alerted NOAA to the situation. After unsuccessful attempts at locating the mother and reintroducing the pup, biologists raised KP2 and released the seal in Kalaupapa in mid-December. The peninsula has become a safe haven for the Hawaiian monk seal, and Schofield says more pups are born there than anywhere else in the Main Hawaiian Islands. KP2 has called Kalaupapa its home ever since its release and biologists have been tracking its travels thanks to a small satellite transmitter they attached to its back.

The Hawaiian monk seal, an endangered species and one of two mammals endemic, or unique, to Hawaii, has seen a population decline of 4% per year,” says Schofield. Evidence points to their existence in Hawaii 14 to 15 million years ago, and less than 1100 Hawaiian monk seals are alive today. While saving KP2 may seem insignificant, “it may take activities like this to save the whole species,” says Schofield.

He thanked members of the patient community and Park Service for their support with the monk seal effort, and their continued contribution to making Kalaupapa an important sanctuary for monk seals.

“What does KP2 stand for?” asked resident Gloria Marks.

“Kauai Pup 2,” explained Schofield, since the seal was born in Kauai (“and scientists aren’t very imaginative with names”).

“It should stand for Kalaupapa Pup 2, now,” she replied proudly.

Updates
A microwave phone system, installed my Hawaiian Telcom, will be completed this week, reports Prokop. This means Kalaupapa won’t be dependant on the phone lines running down the pali, and will offer more reliable service, especially in case of emergency.

The new General Management Plan, updated every 20 years as a guide for the future of Kalaupapa, is beginning to take shape. Meetings with patients and patient ohana have already taken place in Kalaupapa as part of a “pre-scoping” period. The public scoping process won’t start until April, but the first pre-scoping meetings will take place for interested Molokai residents topside on January 28, at 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., both at Mitchell Pauole Center.

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