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Maui Health Fair Aims to Reach Residents Recovering from Fires

As the Lahaina community continues to recover from summer's devastating fires, a health fair for adults and children will bring health services to them.


Hawaii Fires

Direct Relief staff prepare vaccinations stored in one of the organization's cold storage rooms for shipment to Hawai’i as part of its Lahaina Fire response efforts. The vaccines will be used at health fairs to reach the community. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

Health organizations are collaborating across Maui to address the ongoing needs of the community following the summer’s wildfires.

This Saturday, over a dozen providers, nonprofits, associations and the Hawai’i Department of Health will gather at Whalers Village to host a community health fair. Participants will have access to Covid-19 and flu vaccines, health screenings, conversations with physicians, food and games. The event prioritizes Lahaina residents and evacuees who lost their homes to the wildfires and now reside within the resorts in the area; however, all are welcome.

“The idea was to bring the healthcare to them,” said Dr. Cassandra Simonson. She is a local pediatrician and member of the Hawai’i Academy of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who will be present at the health fair.

Simonson also provides care to Medicaid patients at Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center, which is a sponsor for the event. The pediatrician said health professionals in the area want to find ways to make residents feel special during this difficult time. They’ve even hired non-medical professionals to participate in the event to support the local economy. Live music will be featured, and culturally significant ukeleles, many of which were lost to the fires, have been donated to give away.

The Maui fires spread for days and 99 people died. Hundreds more were unaccounted for in the first few days of the natural disaster. The Lahaina community saw the most damage. Many have lost their jobs as the fires decimated the area’s tourism industry, and there is an ongoing housing shortage since many structures were destroyed.

Simonson said while not everyone lost their home, many still feel like they are “still running from the fire” because there is no sense of normalcy. The physician said the constant unknown of the situation affects the population’s mental health.

“It’s very hard on people’s mental health to not be able to prepare their own meals and especially for kiddos who don’t feel safe because you always feel like you’re still running from the fire,” she said. “If you don’t have a normal sense of your surroundings, you’re still in fight or flight mode even if you’re in a shelter or a hotel, it doesn’t feel stable, and it doesn’t feel normal.”

Donations of food and clothing have helped, but community members say they still need more. Some households have taken in other families. Some children have not returned to school. Mentally, many endured shock at the initial situation and are now under constant stress, which can increase health risks.

Jacquelyn Ingram, of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies, said that some students are being bussed from one side of the island to the other to go to school while others are being homeschooled. Some parents are still figuring out educational options. But missing school can prevent some children from receiving immunizations and mental health supports they would traditionally have at school.

HMHB will also participate in the upcoming health fair. Ingram said the drop in educational enrollment is doubly concerning, given the educational disruption so many saw during the height of Covid.

Ingram said that health fair hosts hope that the community event will help people realize that they are not enduring this difficult situation alone and that many are working together to find solutions. HMHB has used its mobile unit to visit rural areas and care for people where they are since the fires were exhausted. She said providing daily necessities and ensuring residents are hydrated and clothed has been key.

Direct Relief is supporting the health fair with donated vaccines, including protection against Covid-19, influenza, RSV, and pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia. Supplies and equipment are also being provided, including needles and syringes, gloves, alcohol swabs, diluent, portable refrigerators, ultra-low temperatures freezers and temperature monitoring devices for vaccine storage.

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