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Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 7, 2009, Healthy at Home 

A St. Francis Healthcare System program lets patients recover in comfortable surroundings

The Stay Healthy at Home program made it possible for Margaret Kamahele to end four months of hospitalization, receive services at home and take a trip to San Diego.

Kamahele explained that she was hospitalized on Jan. 31 for several weeks because of back surgery and "a lot of complications" that kept taking her back to the hospital.

"I wanted so much to go home. Thank gosh, the Stay Healthy at Home team came in and worked with me on safety, also on physical therapy, to get me motivated in moving," said Kamahele, who turned 76 on June 20.

She said a friend came from San Diego and stayed with her for six weeks, "and I promised when I got well I was going to go over and visit." On May 21 she was able to get on a plane to make good on that promise.

"I couldn't have done it without the Stay Healthy at Home team. I was bed-bound so long and so weak. They got me strong enough and well enough to go. I don't need a walker or cane or anything."

The St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii developed the Stay Healthy at Home program as an affordable option to long-term care and to help seniors live at home for as long as possible.

Participants are enrolled at a yearly cost of $600 for an individual and $900 for a couple, compared with an average of $2,500 a month for adult foster homes or up to $7,000 for skilled nursing intermediate-care facilities.

A registered nurse, Kamahele retired from the former St. Francis Medical Center to care for her late husband, noted musician Sonny Kamahele, after he became ill five years ago. They were living in Hilo at the time, and she missed the resources she had in Honolulu, she said.

Pamela Witty-Oakland, chief administrator of St. Francis Residential Care Community, said Kamahele was asked for feedback because of her caregiver role and that she helped to shape Stay Healthy at Home.

After years of working with the two acute-care St. Francis Medical Centers, Witty-Oakland said, St. Francis Healthcare System executives recognized the value of in-home services.

"We knew firsthand when we sent them home, if the home environment was not able to support recovery, they would end up back in the hospital."

The program began as a pilot project last year at Honuakaha affordable senior apartment complex in Kakaako.

"With help of a state grant and our own money, we funded an employee to go in and do one-on-one with tenants," Witty-Oakland said. "In a couple of cases, we were able to help folks avoid hospitalization by getting health referral services in the home."

An outreach project initiated by parish nurses at Kukui Gardens became a Stay Healthy at Home program, with Catholic Charities as a partner, she said.

With one phone call, participants in the St. Francis program can receive a wide range of in-home services.

The program's customer service center takes calls, and staff members go into homes to evaluate needs and customize services, Witty-Oakland said.

The program screens provider-partners to ensure they will deliver quality care to sustain people in their homes, and it coordinates services, she said.

For information on the Stay Healthy at Home program, call 547-6500 or (866) 788-6188, toll free.