Hawaii Island Community Health Center will use the funding to elevate children’s access to care.

Several Hawaii health clinics are in line to receive $15 million in private funding aimed at improving outcomes for underserved populations and addressing root causes of health inequities.

San Francisco-based Stupski Foundation announced recently it’s steering funding to Hana Health, Hawaii Island Community Health Center, Kalihi-Palama Health Center, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, Lanai Community Health Center, Malama I Ke Ola and Waimanalo Health Center.

The health centers serve nearly 30,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, according to the foundation. They focus on addressing health disparities in people affected by poverty and racism. (The foundation provides unrestricted funding to Civil Beat.)

Kuakini Family Health in Kailua-Kona is one of several clinics that are part of Hawaii Island Community Health Center. (Courtesy: Hawaii Island Community Health Center)

Although Hawaii often ranks high nationally as far as the health of its residents, conditions vary widely by neighborhood, racial and ethnic backgrounds, income and other demographics.

Hawaii Island Community Health Center said it will prioritize improving children’s medical and behavioral health, particularly among at-risk populations.

Earlier this year, the organization opened health centers within three Title 1 public schools in West Hawaii island and plans to open two others: another on the Kona side, and one on the Hilo side. Title 1 schools are those where a majority of students come from families living in poverty.

Many Big Island families struggle to take children to doctor appointments either because of long distances or time constraints, said Victoria Hanes, the center’s chief operating officer. The high cost of gasoline can also be barrier.

Victoria Hanes is a licensed clinical psychologist and chief operating officer of Hawaii Island Community Health Center. (Courtesy: Hawaii Island Community Health Center)

“There are parents who are working multiple jobs. They have to take time off work to bring their kids into the health center. The school-based health center movement is something that has been happening across the country and we found that model of care really fits our mission,” Hanes said in an interview.

The school-based health centers opened this year at Honaunau Elementary, and Kealakehe Elementary and Intermediate schools. Locations for the new centers are yet to be determined, Hanes said.

The centers provide well-child exams, vaccinations, sports physicals, acute and chronic care visits, behavioral health care and dental services. They’re staffed with a medical team including a primary care provider with access to psychologists and pediatric dental teams. 

The school health centers should help close some of the gaps in access to care for kids, especially those in need of mental health services where there is an acute shortage of providers.

Mary Oneha, chief executive of Waimanalo Health Center on Oahu, said the grant will support her clinic’s “perpetuation of Native Hawaiian healing.”

“This partnership will help improve food security, and support the expansion of access to oral health care through the opening of a new dental clinic in Kaneohe and an expanded dental clinic in Waimanalo,” Oneha said in a news release.

The foundation’s health program officer for Hawaii said the four-year, unrestricted funding should enable recipients to promote greater health equity and better social outcomes for patients far beyond the grant cycle.

Keaau Family Health and Dental is part of Hawaii Island Community Health Center. (Courtesy: Hawaii Island Community Health Center)

The funding is flexible and based on community needs rather than a top-down approach dictated from afar, said program officer Sulma Gandhi.

She said grant makers sought to answer a key question: “How can we be impactful and of service by relinquishing both control and power, and trust in our partners to address equity in ways that they know best, rather than what we as funders think should be done?”

Each health center knows better than anyone else what will have the most impact, said foundation spokesman Matthew Nagato.

This could mean a community garden or expanded dental services or something else.

“Our intent is that they have the freedom to do what they know is best based on that community voice and not on ours as a funder,” Nagato said.

Dr. David Derauf, chief executive of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, said the grant is based on “listening, mutual respect and trust.”

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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