Stepping stones: KOKO expands to meet demand

  • KOKO staff members Wendy Cypriano, Luana Keakealani, Lauren Butcher, Dr. Claren Kealoha-Beaudet, Alita-Ray Cookman, Dr. Ian Chun and Dr. Franco Acquaro provide primary care and behavioral health services for the underserved, underinsured or uninsured. They meet with 40 or so patients daily at the new expanded facility at Uilani Plaza in Waimea. (COURTESY PHOTO/KOKO)
    KOKO staff members Wendy Cypriano, Luana Keakealani, Lauren Butcher, Dr. Claren Kealoha-Beaudet, Alita-Ray Cookman, Dr. Ian Chun and Dr. Franco Acquaro provide primary care and behavioral health services for the underserved, underinsured or uninsured. They meet with 40 or so patients daily at the new expanded facility at Uilani Plaza in Waimea. (COURTESY PHOTO/KOKO)

WAIMEA — For more than two years, Dr. Claren Kealoha-Beaudet and a small army of supporters have worked tirelessly to achieve a noble goal: accreditation for Kipuka o ke Ola as the only independent rural health clinic in the state.

In late March, their efforts paid off.

The Waimea clinic is a health care hub, with primary care and behavioral health services under one roof.

“It was two and a half years of consistent advocacy, partnering, collaborations and an entire community of people helping to push this forward,” said Kealoha-Beaudet, KOKO’s executive director. “Keaulana Holt, director of the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program at Papa Ola Lokahi, has been one of our strongest advocates. He really helped us wherever we got into a roadblock through his experience working with the federal government.”

Initially, KOKO wasn’t meeting the criteria so they sought help from other supporters to move the application forward.

“We had big support from Bob Lindsay, Mike Hodson and through meetings with political aides for our state representatives,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “I just kept pushing. I am relentlessness.”

KOKO expanded into a new office March 1 at Uilani Plaza to help increase patient capacity. The clinic’s name means “oasis of life/health/wellness.”

They focus on the medically underserved rural community, especially those individuals with Medicaid and Medicare insurances. In addition, KOKO has a strong commitment to address the intergenerational health disparities experienced by many Native Hawaiians.

Around 40 patients are treated there daily, with a total client list of 915. Almost 50 percent of these are Native Hawaiians. One day, KOKO plans to accommodate closer to 4,500 people.

“We really did this for the community,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “Not only did we get real health clinic certification but we’re also certified as a patient-centered medical home model. So if a patient comes to see our primary care doctor complaining about having migraines and chest pains, not only are we going to give them medication to help alleviate the pain, but we can set them up with our behavior or clinical psychologist to talk about ways to help reduce their stress.”

Dr. Franco Acquaro is KOKO’s associate director.

“This really works for Native Hawaiians who may be a bit reticent to interface with the Western medical model,” he said. “Our cultural fluency makes it ideally suited for that population.”

Dr. Ian Chun is the clinic’s medical director, and is a psychiatrist and pediatrician.

“Ian anchors the medical side,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “He is so kind and very genuine. If somebody walks in the door and needs help, he’s not the guy that’s going to say no.”

Both Kealoha-Beaudet and Acquaro are clinical psychologists, and help patients battling with anxiety, depression and trauma. In their practice, they look for contributing factors to what is occurring for their patients.

“I had a 72-year-old woman come in who had major physical ailments: migraine headaches, back pain and gastric pain. As her story unfolded, I found out that she had lived in a country that experienced severe trauma and turmoil and she lived through poverty,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “Just being able to help her identify her strength, see what she came through, and how she now lives and thrives in Hawaii, we were able to focus on her resilience — not on the past struggle. Within six weeks she had reduced pain.”

KOKO currently has four providers and three support staff members including Nurse Practitioner Lauren Butcher and Medical Assistant Luana Keakealani, who have been there for more than a year. Over the next year they plan to add three additional providers and three more staff members.

“We will be bringing on a general practice medical doctor probably by November,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “That’s how long it takes to credential them, and we will also be adding a nurse practitioner to support Dr. Chan in pediatrics for patients 0-18 for primary care.”

They also aim to start indigenous healing by the end of the year known as laau lapaau lomi hooponopono, a holistic medicine.

“This is so all providers can come together and serve the patient in whatever capacity they want,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “So if they would like to try integration of medical and indigenous, we’re down for that.”

The homeless are also treated at KOKO.

“About 10 homeless patients come to the clinic,” Acquaro said. “We’re not just helping with the thing that we specialize in, but the whole package — everything from applying for the Quest plan to finding housing and applying for EBT.”

Ultimately, KOKO plans to become the health care component of Waimea Nui.

“One day I was at the Waimea Hawaiian Homestead meeting and I heard our Board President Mike (Hodson) talking about a community project on the 161 acres behind Kanu O Ka Aina. Part of the vision at that time was to have a health care facility built on. So afterwards I approached him and said, ‘I’m all in.’ Our long-term goal is to build a comprehensive health clinic there as our ultimate destination. What we have now is really a stepping stone.”

KOKO was originally launched in 2014 by Five Mountains Hawaii Inc., a non-profit organization inspired by Dr. Earl Bakken and Kenneth Brown.

“In November 2013 Earl Bakken contacted us because the former Five Mountains Hawaii was going to close. They asked if we were interested in transferring the 501c3, so we acquired it and in January 2014 became Five Mountains, also known as KOKO, with a new board of directors and executive management team,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “The three major funders that helped us with the build out were Queens’ Health Systems, Medtronic and a private funder.”

KOKO has also received support from other community agencies such as Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Royal Order of Kamehameha I and Waimea Hawaiian Homestead Association.

“Our sole purpose for being here is to provide service for the underserved, underinsured or not insured,” Kealoha-Beaudet said. “That’s the contract we hold with Centers for Medicare &Medicaid Services as a rural health clinic.”

A grand opening of the new clinic is planned for May 13.

KOKO is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. Hours and days will be expanded later this year.

Info: kipukaokeola.com or call 885-5900

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