Syphilis is on the rise on Kauai, and Malama Pono Health Services’ president and CEO Mistee Bailey-Myrick doesn’t judge, but instead warns of the serious repercussions from STDs if left untreated
Mistee Bailey-Myrick’s humor and sweet Southern accent make you feel at ease. That’s a good thing, since she’s president and CEO of Malama Pono Health Services — an organization that tackles problems like sexually transmitted diseases that people often are too embarrassed to talk about. It’s her ability to be completely honest with people about serious illnesses like STDs that make them comfortable enough to walk through the nonprofit’s doors at Kukui Grove Health Center and receive any number of services, including chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. “There is no judgment here,” says Bailey-Myrick.
STDs are more prevalent than people might think, she says, especially among young people between ages 14 and 23. “We’ve even had a few younger than that come in,” says Bailey-Myrick, but adds that they don’t have the ability to test anyone under 14.
Syphilis, for example, is on the rise and there are currently three active “clusters” on the island. “It’s extremely transmissible and very easy to give it to someone else,” says Bailey-Myrick.
What’s dangerous about these diseases is, if left untreated, they can cause lifelong problems, including infertility. That’s one reason Bailey-Myrick opted to start a women’s wellness clinic since coming on board, as a way of offering more preventative measures. Carol Fujiyoshi, M.D., comes in once a week to provide medical assistance, including birth control and pregnancy testing.
The “Fatherhood is Sacred” program is another new service initiated by Bailey-Myrick, who accepted her current position about three years ago. “We had so many things for women, but not a lot for men,” she explains.
Young men who become fathers can feel afraid and confused, and the program helps them conquer their fears by teaching them to be responsible and confident parents.
Malama Pono also is spending more time assisting transgender clients. Bailey-Myrick recently organized a focus group consisting of transgender people from around the state to find out what some of their barriers are and how a health care clinic like Malama Pono could help them.
“I remember, after that meeting, driving home crying because I knew I needed to find a way to help these folks,” says Bailey-Myrick. “The message after the meeting was that they felt they weren’t perceived as people.”
They also let her know they were putting themselves in danger by taking hormonal supplements, such as entire packages of birth control pills in one day, without any professional guidance.
“I was mortified, after having been a nurse for so long, to think about what that could be doing to them and what kind of damage they were doing,” says Bailey-Myrick.
Now, Malama Pono provides exams for transgender clients and administers legal hormone injections.
Additionally, the nonprofit helps those who have been diagnosed with HIV, including offering assistance with food and housing. While HIV is now manageable, it’s still something to be cautious of, according to Bailey-Myrick, especially since HIV diagnoses at Malama Pono have increased in recent years, particularly among young teens. “So it’s still here; it’s still going,” says Bailey-Myrick.
Money to maintain programs like these has been dwindling, however, and fundraising efforts like the group’s annual biking event, “Paradise Ride,” don’t bring in enough to keep everything as financially robust as Bailey-Myrick would like.
“We do a whole lot of stuff on very little money,” she says. “It’s tough.”
Still, Malama Pono, which has about a dozen employees, already is outgrowing its new space and Bailey-Myrick hopes it can move into a separate building in Lihue within the next several years.
For now, Bailey-Myrick, who grew up in Alabama and Missouri and has a nursing degree from Southeast Missouri State University, continues placing most of her attention on preventative measures, which include education and counseling services, as well as handing out “a gazillion condoms,” she says. She and husband Kevin Myrick, who works at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, have three children, Katee (24), Kody (21) and Braden (17).
She says she’s thankful to see all the “healthy changes” that come about thanks to these programs.
Rob Anderson, Malama Pono’s chief operating officer, also is grateful to lend a helping hand to people from all walks of life and “taking someone from being very scared all the way to feeling helped and having guidance,” he says.
Bailey-Myrick hopes they can continue to do so for many years to come. “I want people to depend on us and know that we’re there,” she says.
Visit malama-pono.org for more information.