Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to content
Section Navigation

Bringing Health & Wellness to Our Rural Communities: Spotlight on Nāʻālehu

Accessing Healthcare in rural communities can be a challenge. With the lack of facilities, long drive distances, and the potential inability to pay for services, many people living in rural communities often forgo healthcare services, which can impact overall health and well-being. Hawaiʻi Health Matters (HHM) data shows that while 93.5% of adults have healthcare insurance, only 69.2% see the doctor for routine check-ups (2021), and a mere 54.4% see a dentist (2020). On Saturday, February 24, 2024, Representative Jeanné Kapela hoped to bridge these gaps through a Health and Wellness Fair held at Nāʻālehu Elementary School. 

As part of this first annual event, Rep. Kapela brought together a host of community service providers and resources to share information to actively contribute to the overall health and wellness of the community. In attendance were organizations such as the Kaʻū Rural Health Community Association, Inc., United Healthcare, Hawaiʻi Island Community Health Center (HICHC), the Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division, Planned Parenthood, KTA, the Alzheimer’s Association, Hawaiʻi County Economic Opportunity Council (HCEOC), and Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute (HIPHI), among others. This diverse group provided information about health and wellness and economic and mental health support, a truly holistic offering for the residents of Nāʻālehu and the surrounding communities. 

HIPHI hosted several booths at the event, showing the breadth of our community engagement and programs. Patrick Donnelly from the Hawai‘i Oral Health Coalition provided oral health information and samples to encourage and improve oral health outcomes within the community. According to HHM data (2020), only 54.4% of adults visit a dentist versus Hawaiʻi County in general, at 65.6%. Additionally, 12.9% of adults 65+ claim total tooth loss (2020), higher than the Hawai’i County statistic of 7.8%. Jay Ihara was also in attendance, highlighting the extraordinary work the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi is doing. Jay provided information on smoking and vaping issues currently impacting the health of young people and adults across the state. As of 2021, HHM shows adult cigarette usage at 17.3%, which is above the usage in Hawaiʻi County by about 5% and well above the Leading Health Indicator Target for the Healthy People 2030 plan (6.1%). Along with Jay, Miss Kona Coffee’s Teen and member of the Youth Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaiʻi, Zoe Gacayan, helped spread awareness around teen usage of e-cigarettes and encouraged everyone to sign a pledge to renounce such devices. 

For the Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Initiative on Hawaiʻi Island, I showcased materials like healthy recipe ideas featuring vegetables and fruits so that the 65+% of adults who cook at home (HHM 2022) had a few new healthy options. Also available was information about how to use SNAP benefits to grow fruits and vegetables at home. With 59.2% of households with keiki receiving SNAP benefits in Nāʻālehu (HHM 2018-22), this is one way to make funds go further. In addition to these resources, I provided information on the Youth Food Council and Keiki Heroes Activity Books to encourage even the youngest community members to learn about and enjoy Hawaiʻi’s wide variety of fruits and vegetables. 

Lastly, there was a focus on Physical Activity with an inspirational sharing of daily activities and a newly released Fact Sheet. The sharing board showed that many were involved in organized activities such as swimming, volleyball, and dance, including hula. Others noted that everyday activities like keeping up with their keiki and gardening kept them active. The Physical Activity Fact Sheet provides information about physical activity and why it benefits both adults and keiki. It includes recommendations on the amount of daily activity needed and suggested activities for each age group. Increased physical activity within the community could be a tremendous benefit, as only 44.2% of adults follow a regular exercise routine (HHM 2022), and almost 31% stated they were sedentary (HHM 2021). More importantly, 26.6% of the adults living in Nāʻālehu are obese (HHM 2021). Regular physical activity can help adults and keiki maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease (CDC Health Benefits for Adults Infographic). 

The afternoon, filled with robust and essential conversations about how to be and stay healthy, was all thanks to the work of Rep. Kapela and her team. She brought together a host of community service providers and resources that shared valuable information with a community needing such support. I am grateful to Rep. Kapela for including HIPHI in this event. As this was the first annual Health and Wellness Fair hosted by Rep. Kapela, I hope to see more events like this within her district and across the island. The more frequently we can come together and share resources, the healthier and happier our communities will be.

Patti Hatzistavrakis

Patti Hatzistavrakis

East Hawai‘i Health Eating + Active Living Initiative Coalition Coordinator
Back To Top