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  • Kevin Hara

Make a Difference

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

“John Kennedy believed so strongly that one’s aim should not just be the most comfortable life possible, but that we should all do something to right the wrongs we see, and not just complain about them. We owe that to our country, and our country will suffer if we don’t serve her. He believed that one man can make a difference – and that every man should try.“ Jacqueline Kennedy

They called it “King Cane.” Sugar dominated the Hawaiʻi economy in the latter 1800ʻs and early 1900ʻs. Labor was needed to work the sugar plantations. The native Hawaiian population had been decimated by colonial epidemic disease. This resulted in the influx of immigrant workers from China, Japan, Portugal. Korea, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

The plantation immigrants lived in plantation housing and shopped at plantation stores. To keep their workforce healthy and productive, the plantations also took care of their workersʻ medical needs. Clinics and hospitals were developed. Plantation doctors were paid a salary and provided medical services free to all plantation workers and their families. The workers even brought their animals to the plantation doctor. The plantations had universal health care and a third of the population were being cared for by the plantation physicians.

Dr. Howard Liljestrand arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1937 with his wife, Betty, aboard the SS President Coolidge. He came to Hawaiʻi to complete his medical residency training at Queens Hospital. He was born in Iowa in 1911, raised in China and received his medical education at Harvard. He had originally intended to return to China after completion of his medical training. However, political tensions were developing in the Far East. He changed course and chose to stay in Hawaiʻi. He went to work at the Aiea Plantation Hospital.

The sugar plantation industry in Hawaiʻi began to declince in the mid 1900ʻs. Dr. Liljestrand wrote, “On a few days notice, the medical service and hospital of the plantation at Aiea were closed. The sudden loss of livelihood affecting 3,500 people and the extreme uncertainty concerning the future resulted in a stunned community, paralyzed for a time by emotional tension.” Suddenly, the people of Aiea had lost access for their health needs. “Gone were the plantation out-patient clinics, the field nurse with her follow-ups, health surveys, health education, and regular physical examinations.” ”As for the hospital itself, one minute after it was closed by the plantation it was reopened as a private enterprise.” (Goodell.)

Dr. Howard Lijestrand assumed the operations of the Plantation Hospital and in so doing, preserved the health of the people of Aiea. The Aiea Plantation Hospital subsequently evolved to become Southshore Hospital, Leeward Hospital, and then Pearlridge Hospital. Today, Pali Momi Medical Center stands at its site.

The second “A” in Aloha stands for Ahonui. Ahonui means waiting for the moment. It also means being prepared for the moment; being ready so that when the moment arrived, action can be taken. Yes, one person can make a difference. The Kennedyʻs knew this and Howard Liljestrand proved this.

Goodell LM. Plantation Medicine in Hawaii 1840 to 1964: A Patient's Perspective. Hawaii Medical Journal. Vol 54, November 1995.


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