‘Focus on healing’: Innovative hospital partnership aims to offer respite to those on the streets

For the first time, a homeless shelter is teaming up with Hilo Medical Center in an effort to reduce overcrowding at the island’s largest hospital.
Published: Oct. 11, 2023 at 5:53 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2023 at 4:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time, a homeless shelter is teaming up with Hilo Medical Center in an effort to reduce overcrowding at the island’s largest hospital.

Hope Services Hawaii has taken some of its shelter space and transformed it into a small medical respite facility providing homeless people with a safe place to heal after they’re discharged from the hospital.

Because those respite beds are in such high demand, work is now underway to get a bigger facility.

It’s an idea that started out relatively small.

This is Part III of a new HNN Investigates series, “Hope for Hawaii Island.” Get more of our special coverage of Hawaii’s homeless crisis by clicking here.

“There are only four beds right now,” said Hope Services Director of Health Services Michiko Fried.

Hale Maluhia is located at the non-profit’s women’s shelter on Ululani Street in Hilo.

Patients who are well enough to be discharged from Hilo Medical Center but aren’t well enough to recover on the streets can transfer there.

Fried says some of the most common conditions being treated at Hale Maluhia include “heart failure, COPD, kidney failure and liver disease.”

She added, “We can help them with their medications, give them a quiet place. They are given meals. There’s housekeeping. So they can really focus on healing.”

Also in this Series:

The partnership between the hospital and homeless shelter started a little more than a year ago and has quickly proven its worth, helping dozens of people.

According to the National Institute for Medical Respite Care, the average stay in a respite facility costs 90% less than an average hospital stay.

It also reduces the chance a patient will end up right back in the ER.

Officials at Hope Services say it can be a pathway to permanent housing, too.

Now there’s a push to move the operation out of the shelter and into a facility all its own — doubling the number of beds from four to eight.

“We would like to establish a medical respite home. We have plans. We’re talking about it,” Fried said.

The home would be a place for people like Robert.

The 43-year-old lost his arm in 2016 in a work accident and has been living on the streets near downtown Hilo. Now he’s got a gash on his leg that just won’t heal.

“It goes off and on,” Robert said.

It’s been that way for six months.

Problem is there’s not enough space at the current facility for everyone who needs a bed.

Officials tell HNN Investigate when it comes to expanding, they do have a place in mind but aren’t quite ready to share its location because they’re still trying to secure funding to make the idea reality.

“The building is ours to use,” Fried said. “But it needs to be renovated, brought up to code.”

In addition to money for construction the building would need to be furnished. More staff would also have to be hired.

“And staffing costs money because we need a special level of traning for anybody’s who’s going to work in a medical respite facility,” Fried said.

To make it happen, Hope Services needs to raise $800,000. The non-profit is currently seeking funding from the county, state and other private agencies.

If you would like to support the expansion click here or call 808-935-3050.


On Thursday, HNN’s “Hope for Hawaii Island” series continues with a story about the first Micronesian ever to be accepted to Columbia University.

The Hilo native spent part of the summer volunteering with the Hope Services Street Medicine Program.

Find out how he plans to help his hometown after graduation — by watching at 6 p.m. on HNN or on demand across HNN’s digital platforms.