TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
June 2003 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`Ano`ai kakou… When the Native Hawaiian Health Task Force was first convened in 1999, we originally focused our efforts on four underserved and vulnerable groups – keiki, ‘opio, kūpuna, and underinsured makua. We came up with ambitious plans, such as the creation of a Hawaiian HMO. However, this plan was not pursued when an actuarial study found that, since Hawaiians have disproportionately poor health compared to the rest of the population in Hawaii, OHA could lose up to $20 million per year.
The Task Force then decided to refocus its efforts on the most vulnerable segment of our community, our kūpuna. In 1996, the Pacific Health Research Institute reported that the rates of death from major chronic disease were higher for Hawaiian elderly than non-Hawaiian elderly. They attributed this disparity to the late diagnosis and treatment of health problems. The Task Force felt it could deal with this problem immediately and ease the suffering of our kūpuna by providing valuable information on Medicare benefits through the OHA SAGE PLUS program. Most people do not know that Medicare pays for many preventive services such as:
- Mammography for breast cancer screening
- Pap smears for cervical cancer screening
- Colorectal cancer screening
- Bone mass measurements for osteoporosis
- Diabetes self-management and blood glucose monitoring
- Flu and Pneumonia vaccinations.
These Medicare benefits can be a key to long lasting good health and can help our kūpuna determine their health risks and needs for preventive medicine.
The Task Force developed the OHA SAGE PLUS program a year ago as an outreach program to ensure our Hawaiian kūpuna receive all of the Medicaid benefits that they are entitled. The State Executive Office on Aging (EOA) will train volunteers to conduct informational presentations to assist kūpuna in assessing their eligibility for Medicare, Medigap, Medicare+Choice, Supplemental plans, Hospice, Long-Term Care Insurance, and Advanced Healthcare Directives and other health benefits. The application process can get bewildering for many kūpuna since Medicare rules and regulations are constantly changing. The EOA provides volunteers with regular training updates.
The OHA volunteers will also collect vital quantitative data that will be valuable in formulating future programs and strategies to help the kūpuna population. This data can also be used to justify grant applications for federal funds and to convince our own State legislature to fund more programs to assist kūpuna.
OHA’s staff from Hilo, Kona, Kauai, Maui, and Molokai will be undergoing the training so that they may bring this valuable service to kūpuna on the neighbor islands. One of the goals of the program is for the training to expand to the neighbor islands.
After a lifetime of dignity, independence, and hard work, many of our proud kūpuna are too embarrassed to ask outsiders for help. They also believe it is shameful to air one’s problems in public. The Pacific Health Research Institute recommended greater outreach to the kūpuna community by providing information and referrals, which the program hopes to accomplish.
It is unacceptable that our kūpuna continue to be denied life saving health benefits because they lack the information to access it. We must strive to do everything possible to help our kupuna get the information they need to improve and prolong their quality of life.
Improving the health of our kūpuna will only make the greater Hawaiian community stronger. How can we build a nation when we cannot properly care for the most vulnerable part of our community? Unless something is done now, their health will continue to fail and we will risk prematurely losing their wisdom at a time when we need it the most, a time when every entitlement for Hawaiians are under attack.
The next OHA SAGE PLUS training workshop is set for June 9-10, 2003 from 8:30am-4:30pm at either the State Executive Office of Aging or at OHA. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact OHA staff member Nancy Holt at 594-1905.
An estimated 16,000 Hawaiian kūpuna are potentially eligible for Medicare program benefits. We are determined to recruit at least 50 volunteers. Our kūpuna generally feel more comfortable when people their own age explain things to them, however, all who passionately believe in assisting the elderly are urged to join the program. Mahalo nui!