Everything from hula to lomilomi massages is free for AlohaCare’s 83,000 members.

One of Hawaii’s largest insurance providers has begun offering Native Hawaiian cultural practices as part of its suite of covered services.

AlohaCare, which primarily serves Medicaid and some Medicare clients, is offering hooponopono, lomilomi, ai pono and hula to support what it calls “whole person care and wellness in partnership with community practitioners.”

AlohaCare provides free services to approximately 83,000 members. The program, called Ke Aloha Maui, began last fall and is currently being rolled out across the Hawaiian Islands.

A group of women dance the hula under the direction of Kumu Hula Mahelani Kalikolau 'Olenakalni at Magic Island Park in Honolulu, Thursday, July 9, 2020.  (Photo by Ronan Zilberman, Civil Beat)
Hula is one of the Native Hawaiian practices now covered by AlohaCare. (Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020)

AlohaCare partners with community health centers and Native Hawaiian health care systems to offer services.

Francoise Cooley-Trotman, chief executive of AlohaCare, said the pandemic was a wake-up call that focused on gaps in services and the need for additional ways to help people stay healthy.

AlohaCare Chief Executive Francois Cooley-Trotman (Courtesy: AlohaCare)

The plan to launch Kay Aloha Mau began in 2020, a year of the pandemic “everyone has a heightened understanding that in our community we are struggling to meet basic needs.”

The organization held listening sessions and received feedback from AlohaCare members and clients about the direction AlohaCare wanted to go in expanding culturally embedded health practices.

One of these is huponopono, a Native Hawaiian healing practice that can help improve family relationships by allowing couples and other family members to resolve conflicts and improve communication. According to the AlohaCare website, it involves spiritual discussions to restore bonds and heal wounds within a family.

Another exercise AlohaCare offers is hula, a Native Hawaiian form of dance. It stimulates physical movement, which studies have shown to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, boost mental health, and provide other benefits.

Lomilomi, a Native Hawaiian physiotherapy and massage form, is designed to stretch and realign the body and relieve stress. And Ai pono is a traditional healthy Hawaiian dietary practice centered around locally grown and prepared food items.

Lomilomi is designed to stretch and realign the body and relieve stress. (In Court: AlohaCare)

In 2020, the University of Hawaii’s John A. A Barnes School of Medicine report highlights the need for culturally responsive programs to address social and health disparities among Native Hawaiian populations.

The report analyzed data showing that Native Hawaiians suffer from coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes at three times higher rates than other ethnic groups.

It also provides evidence-based research indicating that the health of Native Hawaiians will improve when their care is rooted in Native Hawaiian culture.

Lost health center
Waimanalo Health Center offers Native Hawaiian services covered by AlohaCare insurance. (Katherine Toth Fox/Civil Beat/2023)

Sherry Daniels, chief executive of the nonprofit consortium Papa Ola Lokahi, said AlohaCare is providing a “great opportunity for communities and residents” to have insurance cover Native Hawaiian services that “target some of our cultural values ​​and beliefs.”

One of the few Native Hawaiian health centers offering services is at Waimanalo on the east side of Oahu and has seven Native Hawaiian practitioners.

Waimanalo Health Center began developing its cultural medicine program in 2015 by hiring Kumu Leinala Bright, the center’s director of cultural health services.

Native Hawaiian health practitioner brings more than 30 years of experience to Lomilomi. She offers classes in Lau Lapau, which is Hawaiian herbal medicine, among other things.

Teacher Leenala Bright (Courtesy: Waimanalo Health Centre)

Bright said traditional medicine and cultural healing programs have been largely successful.

In response to high interest, Bright developed a series of educational programs including Ola, Papa Lau and Mahi Lau Lapau.

The aim is to teach people how to live a healthy life and to grow and use medicinal herbs to treat various conditions.

These practices, bridging Western medicine and indigenous knowledge, appeal to many who would otherwise stay away from a doctor’s office.

“It’s been very healing and helpful,” Bright said.

AlohaCare’s Ke Aloha Mau program is also available at Hui Ke Ola Pono Clinic on Maui and Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi in Hilo on the Big Island.

The company is in various stages of implementing the program at Kokua Kalihi Valley, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Hamakua-Kohala Health Center, Hula Lahui Hawaii (Kauai Community Health Center) and Hawaii Island Community Health Center.

Civil Beat’s Community Health Coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, the Swain Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cook Foundation and Papa Ola Lokhi.

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