HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, a nationally-recognized advocate for Native Hawaiian health and the inaugural chairman of the University of Hawaii School of Medicine, died Friday at the Queen's Medical Center.
He was 90.
Blaisdell is best known for pushing for greater accessibility to health care for Native Hawaiians, and for underscoring the importance of culturally-appropriate health care.
His work also highlighted the significant health disparities between Native Hawaiians and other populations in Hawaii.
In 1983, he wrote a critical health report for the Congressional Native Hawaiians Study Commission, and followed it up two years later with a report identifying the community's health needs.
Blaisdell was also instrumental in the passage of the federal Native Hawaiian Health Care Act in 1988, which established Native Hawaiian health care systems on five islands and integrated traditional Native Hawaiian practices with Western medical services.
His research focused on the unique medical needs facing the Native Hawaiian community. In 1987, he wrote E Ola Mau, a report that documented the high incidence of heart disease, cancer, infant mortality, stroke and diabetes among Native Hawaiians.
The report also pointed to a long list of Native Hawaiian societal factors, including dropout rates, income and incarceration. He argued that improving Native Hawaiian health outcomes would require integrating Western medicine with traditional holistic medicine and a reinforcement of cultural identity.
Blaisdell also served as interim director of the UH Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies, sat on a host of boards, and received a long list of awards.
Blaisdell got his medical degree from the University of Chicago, and held medical and pathology residencies at Tulane Medical Service, Duke University Hospital and the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics. He was an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago from from 1961 to 1966, before moving to the University of Hawaii, where he served as a professor until 2006.
In 1990, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii named him a Living Treasure.
Blaisdell is survived by son Mitch, daughter Nalani Blaisdell-Brennan, and four grandchildren.