Dr. Kaohimanu Dang Akiona Testifying in Support of HB 847 HD1 to Fund the HHSC Primary Care Training Program


Rep. Sylvia Luke, Chair

Rep. Scott N. Nishimoto, Vice Chair



Friday, February 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

Conference Room 308

State Capitol

415 South Beretania Street 


I, Dr. Ka'ohimanu Lydia K. Dang Akiona, am in full support of HB 847 HD1  to fund theHawai'i Health Systems Corporation Primary Care Training Program (HHSC PCTP)). I am one of the first four residents being trained at the HHSC Primary Care Training Program and I am extremely humbled to be here today.

I was born and raised in Central O'ahu, in Wahiawa, Hale'iwa, Mililani. I am named after my 90 year-old great-grandmother, Lydia Leinani Kaulula'au Walker, who lives in Nanakuli homestead. My father is a warehouse supervisor. His father was a tugboat engineer and his mother was a homemaker. My mother is a clerk at Safeway. Her father is retired from the Honolulu Police Department and her mother was a postal worker, but passed from colon cancer at the young age of 48. 

I am the oldest of three, and a product of Kamehameha and the University of Hawaii at Manoa; I studied Cell and Molecular Biology and Hawaiian Studies. I participated in several programs that specifically targeted Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Island students. Part of my research included 'Imi Hale Native Hawaiian Cancer Network in 2005, where I helped set up the Cancer Patient Navigator training program statewide. After working at the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at our John A. Burns School of Medicine, I left for medical school and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with full financial assistance from the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship.  

At a young age, I watched my healthy, loving grandmother waste away from colon cancer and die in pain. This experience stuck with me years later when as a young researcher, I travelled island to island to hear real patients talk about their care experiences. The system itself is difficult to navigate, and when one is chronically ill, as many of our patients tend to be, it became evident to me as a young researcher that journey for someone from an outer island is particularly challenging, both to the patient and the family. On the other hand, it was amazing to witness how each community stepped up with what resources they had to provide as much as possible for their constituents. I have been very mindful of this as I transitioned back to local living after medical school. I understand fully that I am here today because my community stepped up and fought to keep the vision of the late Senator Inouye alive- to have enough health providers for ALL of Hawai’i’s people. My community fought for the program, for the funding, for me and for others like me and for that I am so grateful. 

The doctors that I have met and work with in Hilo are exceptionally dedicated people. I have been impressed time and again at the 30-plus years of dedication many of these long time physicians have for our community. This is important for me, especially as a wife and mother - these docs work constantly because there are not enough of them. We need more than 200 physicians on Hawai’i Island alone and over 800 physicians in this state. Today, we have an opportunity to ease this problem. 

The Primary Care Training Program can provide physicians, pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners and psychologists for the State of Hawai'i for generations to come. As we are immersed in the system and work together, we build relationships that are grounded in the values of our community: collegiality and teamwork, responsibility, respect and humility, with a little bit of local-style learning and laughter. I look around just at Hilo Medical Center and I see so much locally grown talent. I meet applicants to our residency program with real roots and ties to our islands. They tell me they can’t wait to come home to stay. I want to ask you to please consider the impact this bill can have for more like me, who want an opportunity to give back to the community that raised us. 

I can tell you first hand that while I am here to serve, I have gotten so much in return. The doctors, busy as they are, given their time to teach and nurture us, the amazing Hilo Medical staff that surround us and invest in our development, and our community who trust us to care for their family members with the aloha they deserve. I am here for, and because of, all of them. 

I thank members of this committee for hearing this bill. Please support the HHSC Primary Care Training Program for the future of a healthy Hawaii.