It’s Miller Time at Kalaupapa

New administrator sets goals for community.

By Dan Murphy

Retirement didn’t last long for Mark Miller. Two months after migrating south to Oahu, Miller decided the retired life wasn’t for him and took a job with the Hawaii’s Department of Health’s (DOH) Hansen’s disease program. Two years later, he is now the DOH’s administrator on Kalaupapa.

“I found that laying on the beach and golfing was really nice, but I was so used to being busy all the time that doing those things on the weekend was enough for me,” Miller said. “I came down to find this job that I really wasn’t looking for. It kind of found me; it was almost like a calling."

Miller moved to Hawaii after retiring from his post as Director of Tourism for the state of Alaska. He said leaving the frozen coast of Alaska for Hawaii’s sunny shores was a pleasant change of pace. During his first career, Miller learned the inner workings of the construction and transportation industries, which he said helped qualify him for the job at Kalaupapa. Miller was a rookie in the healthcare field and knew very little about Hansen’s disease before arriving in Hawaii. But he quickly fell in love with the place and people at Kalaupapa.

“I was here quite a bit, mostly for community meetings, and I really loved the place,” Miiller said. “It’s a place for serenity and thought.  There are still a lot of vital, incredibly interesting people.”
 
He spent the last two years traveling between DOH’s offices in Honolulu and Kalaupapa. Miller was a planner and worked to close a landfill and install a major generator upgrade at the healthcare center on the peninsula. He officially replaced long-time administrator Michael McCarten on Aug. 1.

Community Construction
In his first month, Kalaupapa’s new skipper has already taken steps to building a stronger community amongst the patients and 20-odd DOH employees that call the small peninsula home. Miller instituted bi-weekly volleyball matches that have become popular events for all, and has also tried to recognize workers for their hard work.

“They didn’t have a feeling of community here for a long time at this office and I think that I’ll be good at building that,” he said. Miller wants to make sure that his staff is all working together to provide the best care they can for the dozen patients that still remain in town.

Affordable airfare and emergency planning are the other items atop Miller’s to do list as he settles into his new job. Patients and employees currently have to pay almost $500 for the ten minute flight to Molokai’s topside. With regular doctor appointments on Oahu, those costs add up quickly and make it hard to afford the treatment patients need. Miller said he hopes that he will soon find a low cost solution with a regular air service.

He is also working to prepare all of Kalaupapa’s citizens for many worst case scenarios. Before taking over as administrator, Miller wrote the emergency plan for Kalaupapa and is doing his best to implement it now. He has trained locals to operate fire equipment and is trying to update EMT training for as many people as possible.

“One of my goals is to make sure that I am absolutely positive that if I am struck dead by lightning and a tsunami is coming, everybody here will do the right thing and save themselves,” he said.

As long as Miller can avoid the lightning and the DOH will keep him, he said he plans to stay at Kalaupapa for a long time.

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