On March 31, the Open Arms Harbor team said aloha to their last guests as they left the premises and ended the project. For nearly six months, they had provided services to run and operate an isolation-quarantine facility, which became a puʻuhonua (a place of safety and refuge) for more than 200 members of our communities who were exposed to or tested positive for Covid-19.
“Thank you very much for having a safe place like this for people like me to come and heal. You made this COVID experience a lot easier for me and my family,” said one Open Arms Harbor guest.
Approximately 42% of the guests were Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, most of which came from large family households that made it difficult to isolate or quarantine safely. Staff provided culturally and linguistically-tailored services to one in five guests in a Micronesian language and seven additional guests in Ilocano.
Open Arms Harbor first welcomed guests on November 6th in a unique partnership between the Partners in Development Foundation (PIDF), the City and County of Honolulu, and the Department of Health. Staff provided daily wellness checks, case management for transitions from shelters or homes, to hospitals, to the hotel, and outward to their healthy destination, distributed meals three times a day as well as snacks and water. They also stopped to talk-story or share in a much-needed laugh with people separated from their family and friends and yearning for social connections.
“It was a meaningful partnership effort. At PIDF, we were compelled by the urgency of COVID-related needs in our communities to step up and stretch our arms around people who needed help to keep their families safe. I’m proud of our staff, none of whom had done this before, they really made all the difference,” said Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, President and CEO of PIDF.
All staff members were trained and certified in cleaning via GBAC, a nationally accredited association and received hands-on training to be well-versed in guest management and safety protocols. This workforce opportunity allowed PIDF to recruit and train community members wanting work during an economically troubled time, all with a shared commitment to aloha and genuinely care for our guests as part of our ʻohana.
“Everyone that comes onto our site, we treat them as if they are our family members,” said Perlas Bardouche, Open Arms Harbor site manager. Staff provided services beyond what was expected despite significant risk to themselves and their families. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you’re still a person that needs help and assistance.”
During the holidays the staff called vendors, friends, and other community players to round up donations like toys, books, supplies such as diapers, bottles, toiletries, gift cards, and even gingerbread house kits. The gifts were wrapped up and delivered door to door to show the guests they are appreciated and even though they are not able to be with their families during the holidays, “it’s our way of extending our family,” Bardouche said.
The quarantine experience can be lonely, especially on birthdays. For one guest, staff arranged with their significant other to deliver a cake along with a surprise facetime call. Another couple were in separate rooms to quarantine safely. Learning of how lonely they were without each other, staff went out of their way to coordinate meal deliveries so that they could facetime and eat dinner “together”, despite the separation. They made friends with children, and went out of their way to find special treats that kept guests smiling.
Even with PIDF’s experience during the last 24 years of supporting healthy and resilient communities, no one could have prepared us for the pandemic that hit our islands one year ago. Running this hotel facility was a new one for our organization. Like us, the pandemic saw so many people, partners and organizations across the state who stretched in new ways, standing up to support families in need, including ensuring that our community members had places to heal during this vulnerable time.
“Across Hawaiʻi, our community response to this coronavirus pandemic is proof of how resilient we are, how innovative we can be, and how we can partner in new ways to do things we never thought possible,” said Kanaʻiaupuni.