HMC, KTA honored for work during pandemic

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald KTA Pharmacy director Megan Arbles, left, and Elena Cabatu, director of marketing at Hilo Medical Center, talk before officially receiving awards Thursday during the YWCA Remarkable People luncheon at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. Arbles accepted the award from YWCA of Hawaii Island CEO Kathleen McGilvray, right, on behalf of KTA, and Cabatu accepted on behalf of HMC.

KTA Pharmacy manager Megan Arbles, middle left, and Elena Cabatu, director of marketing at Hilo Medical Center, middle right, accepted awards as Hawaii County’s Recovery Rockstars during YWCA’s Remarkable People luncheon at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. Arbles accepted the award from YWCA of Hawaii Island CEO Kathleen McGilvray, right, on behalf of KTA and Cabatu accepted on behalf of HMC. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Hilo Medical Center and KTA Super Stores staff were honored as COVID-19 “Recovery Rockstars” by the YWCA of Hawaii Island at the 2023 Remarkable People ceremony held Thursday in Hilo.

The awards highlighted the vaccination efforts of both HMC and KTA that supported the Big Island community during the pandemic.


“If it weren’t for these groups and the mobilization that these groups did, this would have been a very different story,” said YWCA of Hawaii Island CEO Kathleen McGilvary. “We wanted to thank these organizations, Hilo Medical Center and KTA Pharmacy, for helping us through that very difficult time.”

HMC’s executive management team and emergency management team put together an initial playbook for the novel coronavirus back in 2020, instituting personal protective equipment and visitor policy precautions, all while opening one of the first testing sites on Hawaii Island.

Then on Dec. 23, 2020, HMC administered its first series of vaccinations for health care workers and first responders, later expanding to kupuna and the rest of the community.

“This pandemic was a tough road to walk, probably the toughest walk we’ll take in our health care careers, but thank goodness we had each other,” said HMC Director of Marketing and Government Affairs Elena Cabatu, who accepted the award on HMC’s behalf. “We were tasked to care for patients trying to survive a disease we were all seeing for the first time.”

HMC went on to host five mass vaccination clinics, distributing a total of 17,171 shots to community members to protect against the virus.

“Our CEO Dan Brinkman, who is a nurse first, kicked off our vaccination clinics by administering the first shot ,” Cabatu said. “We are all here in this room because we survived the pandemic, and as your hospital, we are stronger together for having gone through it.”

KTA Pharmacy also hosted vaccination clinics, often in collaboration with HMC. This included a massive event held at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium, where a welcoming environment for kids featuring balloons, music and even staff members dressed up as Disney characters helped ease any anxieties about getting vaccinated.

“It really was the behind the scenes work of the KTA Pharmacy staff, their families, and our selfless volunteers that allowed our vaccination clinics to operate so smoothly,” said Director of KTA Pharmacy Operations Megan Arbles, who accepted the award on KTA’s behalf.

In addition, KTA Pharmacy conducted mobile vaccination clinics to administer shots in hard-to-reach and remote areas like Ka‘u, as well as to bed-bound patients across the island.

“We fell into the role of naturally gravitating towards assisting the elderly kupuna without computer access, individuals with disabilities, and those in need of a little bit of extra support,” Arbles said. “We then deployed dedicated teams of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians across the entire island, covering hundreds of miles to administer vaccines to bed-bound patients. Our home visits were probably some of the most challenging, but undeniably rewarding.”

The two organizations also thanked one another for their partnership throughout the pandemic, which improved access to testing and vaccinations for the Big Island community.

“It really was a testament of collaboration and adaptability, proving that even unplanned circumstances can result in a remarkable marriage of efforts towards a shared goal of getting Hawaii Island vaccinated and protecting our community’s well-being,” Arbles said. “All of our efforts truly exemplify the spirit of resilience, compassion and perseverance in the face of adversity.”

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