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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Lunalilo Home struggling to rebuild sense of 'ohana

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

HAWAI'I KAI — For the first time in its 70-plus years in this East Honolulu community, the Lunalilo Home for elderly Native Hawaiians is having trouble finding residents.

The Lunalilo Home dining room where, from left, Margaret Kaluna, Richard Lyons and John Young ate lunch recently was nearly empty, a sign of the trouble the home for Hawaiian seniors has had in attracting occupants since reopening.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The home was virtually full when it closed in 1996 for five years of renovation. Since reopening last summer, the home today has only 10 residents. It can accommodate 46.

Officials say there are several reasons why, but one in particular.

"It's definitely related to the economy," said R.M. Keahi Allen, one of three trustees of the King William Charles Lunalilo Trust who oversee the home. "A lot of families are keeping their parents with them because it creates an income and helps keep the family together."

The economy is not the sole cause of the lull, though.

A new senior housing complex recently opened in Waimanalo, retirement complexes are popping up all over O'ahu, and state and county restrictions bar Lunalilo Home from accepting residents using wheelchairs, said Gregg Meyer, Lunalilo Home administrator.

In years past, as one resident moved out, another was ready to move in, Meyer said. Today, even with offers of financial assistance to help cover the average $2,000 per person per room fee, Lunalilo Home can't find enough takers.

The home — a stately red-tiled roof, cream stucco building with an open air veranda, wood floors and antique sideboards scattered throughout — plans to expand its program to include meals on wheels services to seniors in the community, day-time elder care and weekend respite care.

Each of these services will be available to the community as a whole, not just to seniors of Hawaiian ancestry, Meyer said.

"There are misconceptions in the Hawaiian community that they can't afford to stay here," Meyer said. "We will assist in the cost. The other misconception is we're a nursing home; we're not."

To be a resident of the home, which sits on five acres next to Kaiser High School, seniors cannot rely upon a wheelchair for mobility, or tube feedings or medications, Meyer said.

While the home can accommodate wheelchair access, the city determined its hallways were not wide enough to meet federal wheelchair standards, he said. That restriction has shrunk the pool of eligible seniors considerably, Meyer said.

"For 70 years we had wheelchairs here and residents got around just fine, including double amputees," Meyer said. "It was a stumbling block for us and has slowed down the application process."

John Tyler signed up his 85-year-old mother for a private room and bath when the home opened in August. She was among the first to move in after the home reopened.

"She likes it here," Tyler said. "She doesn't have to cook anymore, her laundry is done and folded and put in her drawer.

"If she needs help, they're there to assist."

Every day Tyler and his wife visit his mother. Some days they stay and chat with the other residents or take them to the store, he said.

While it is expensive to have her live at the home, Tyler said the services make up for the cost.

"What she gets there is good," Tyler said. "It's homey, an 'ohana-type home there."

The home was specified in the will of King William Charles Lunalilo, who required that residents be of Hawaiian descent.

The home moved from its original location near Roosevelt High School to its current site in 1927.

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.