KAILUA-KONA — Nakamaru Hale, Hospice of Kona’s residential home in Holualoa, is temporarily closed with plans to reopen in the new year.
The home, nestled amid ulu, mango and coffee trees and bountiful flora at a cool elevation in North Kona, has five beds providing respite, transitional and longer-term care in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment during the final months of life. It closed its doors at the end of October — but only temporarily, Hospice of Kona CEO Laura Varney stressed Monday.
“The plan is just for it to be closed for two months and to reopen in January,” said Varney, who’s overseen the nonprofit organization since 2006, including the opening of Nakamaru Hale — one of just 300 to 500 hospice residential homes in the nation — in summer 2012.
Hospice of Kona’s in-home care and community outreach and bereavement programs are not impacted by the hiatus, she said. Annually, the organization, which operated on $3.23 million fiscal year 2017, cares for about 250 to 300 patients, with about 60 to 70 of those receiving end-of-life care at Nakamaru Hale.
“Nakamaru is only for hospice patients, patients that are at end of life and meet the qualifications for hospice. It’s not a facility, it’s not even a private care home — it is a hospice residential home,” she said. Though Nakamaru Hale is closed, patients unable to stay in their own home while on hospice have other choices in the community via private and long-term care facilities, she said.
Operating Nakamaru Hale, which the organization leases from the Nakamaru family, costs approximately $270,000 annually with about half of that funding coming from sales proceeds from the organization’s Memory Lane Thrift Store, and the remainder via grants and donations. Patient care, including equipment and medication, while in the home is covered by insurance, such as Medicare, Varney said.
Varney said the organization’s management team made the decision in the fall to close temporarily the home after the number of patients at Nakamaru Hale dropped to one in October, making it cost-prohibitive to staff the home 24/7 with five full-time workers. That was exacerbated by a staff shortage that required overtime pay to cover shifts, and a trend of late referrals resulting in fewer patient days in hospice care, which reduces reimbursement from insurance companies.
“I like to use the word ‘pause,’” Varney said of the status of Nakamaru Hale, hoping to dispel rumors circling in the community and on social media regarding the home and the organization’s status. The “pause,” however, did result in the layoff of four staff members with one position vacant at the time. Those staff members will be rehired.
“We didn’t close because we are out of money, we closed to raise money for the future. We closed so that we could make it sustainable. We closed so that we could improve on some of the things we were doing at a time when we could do it because we had no patients in there,” she said.
During the pause, Varney said, Hospice of Kona has also been fundraising, and is well on its way to having all the money it needs to operate in 2020. The Nakamaru family has also completed some work at the home, including trimming and removing old trees and other yard work, that normally can’t be done when patients are in residence. “
“Our hope is by the end of January, with all of the efforts we’ve made, that we collect the (remaining) $150,000 we need to operate Nakamaru Hale all of 2020,” she said. “If we can make that happen, then we have no problem — and we are well on our way to doing that.”
Monetary donations for Nakamaru Hale — or Hospice on Kona in general — can be made directly to the organization online by visiting www.hospiceofkona.org or by calling 324-7700. People can also contribute to the home by shopping the Memory Lane Thrift Store on Kuakini Highway.
The next event benefiting Hospice of Kona is the organization’s free annual Circle of Remembrance set for Jan. 29 at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Reservations are currently being taken and the organization has sent sponsorship letters out to the community for those looking to assist with the event.
“We can’t wait to reopen,” Varney said. “(Nakamaru Hale) is a fabulous resource to have when you’re a hospice organization.”