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People Person

Recreational therapy director Josie Pablo and her staff at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital are committed to patients and their well-being

Recreational therapy director Josie Pablo and her staff at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital are committed to patients and their well-being

Josie Pablo is as sweet as they come. It’s an innate quality that works well for the 66 long-term residents of Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, where she is as director of recreational therapy. Her job is to enhance their lives, and judging by their happy faces recently on a recent visit to a game of bingo, her mission is being accomplished.

Dino Bondallian, a SMMH resident, thinks so. “She makes our lives enjoyable,” says Bondallian, resident council president. “They really take care of me.”

His family resides on Hawaii island, so having people like Pablo take care of him and make sure his life stays as normal as possible is important to his wellbeing. He raves about the hospital’s “good food,” including the Japanese and Filipino dishes.

Mahelona Hospital recreational therapy staff (from left) Riza Pena, director Josie Pablo, Juvie Bercasio and Lalaine Rabaino

Mahelona Hospital recreational therapy staff (from left) Riza Pena, director Josie Pablo, Juvie Bercasio and Lalaine Rabaino

And that’s Pablo’s goal: to provide the residents —who are hospitalized for various ailments, including long-term care needs and mental illness — with things they can look forward to and make them feel at home despite their circumstances.

“These residents here were like you and me at some point,” she says. “They might be slower, they might not remember everything, but they’re still human; they’re still alive and well.”

And she gets to know each and every one of them.

“You develop a relationship with them,” she says. “We treat them as if they’re our own grandmas and grandpas. We treat them as part of the family.”

Josie Pablo connects with all the residents at SMMH, including Margaret Ponce, pictured here playing bingo

Josie Pablo connects with all the residents at SMMH, including Margaret Ponce, pictured here playing bingo

Each month, Pablo posts a schedule of several activities, like arts and crafts, that her three employees — Riza Pena, Juvie Bercasio and Lalaine Rabaino — help execute. She always takes into consideration the cultural backgrounds and interests of the residents.

“For them to maintain dignity and quality of life, they need these activities,” says Pablo.

The Kapaa resident believes these projects give patients a sense of purpose and increase positive traits, like building cognitive, emotional and physical skills. “I truly believe that activities are so crucial to any hospitals or long-term care,” she says.

Larger events residents anticipate at SMMH include the annual bon dance held at the state facility, and the Breast Cancer Walk, as well as outings to Lydgate Beach Park twice each summer, when they get to spend time not only soaking in the sun, but floating in the gentle water.

“We live in Hawaii. We have a beautiful ocean and the sun is always shining. Why can’t these residents go out and have a picnic and spend the day at the beach?” says Pablo.

Bondallian and other residents really look forward to the marriage renewals — and it doesn’t hurt that there’s a real wedding cake to go along with the celebration. During a phone interview with Kauai Midweek, in fact, Bondallian was excited, as he was getting ready to watch his friends renew their vows in the garden at the center of the complex. It’s an activity Pablo initiated because many of the residents don’t live with their spouses anymore.

SMMH resident Oscar Montejo with Josie Pablo

SMMH resident Oscar Montejo with Josie Pablo

If it weren’t for her and the help of her staff, these things might never have come to fruition. She’s been committed to improving the lives of SMMH’s residents for three decades. Maybe it’s because of her humble beginnings growing up in Camp 7 on the Westside and acquiring strong work ethics from her family.

She embarked on her mission early in life. After graduating from Waimea High School, she acquired a degree in geriatrics from University of Oregon. Immediately after, she landed her job at SMMH. “And I’ve been here ever since.”

Her fiery dedication to come to work every day and keep giving her all to the residents has yet to burn out. “I have no regrets,” says Pablo, who adds that she also enjoys working with her fellow SMMH employees, of which there are approximately 100.

To Pablo, who, with husband Jaime, a Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources employee, has two adult children, Veronica and Maegan, SMMH is her home away from home. But it’s not always an easy job. Besides dealing with regular budget challenges, it’s hard to have to say goodbye to good friends.

Some of the best advice she’s received in her life, however, has come from those residents. “You work hard and you live each day as if it’s the last,” says Pablo, who loves Bikram yoga, and is an avid runner, as well as a member of Kauai Divas and Dudes. “And don’t worry so much.”

She considers herself a SMMH “lifer” and doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. Actually, she’s looking forward to celebrating the hospital’s 100th year in 2017. “I want to be here,” says Pablo, who is working to lure more student volunteers to assist the residents with activities. “If you still have the passion, keep doing what you’re doing.”

Visit smmh.hhsc.org for more information.

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