February 22, 2012
By Sherry Bracken
The Hilo Medical Center Foundation has announced completion of its project to renovate the Hospital “River Cottage” for use by medical students, family medicine residents, and nurse practitioner students who come to Hilo for training. The Foundation spokesperson described the project as a “truly heartwarming experience” . The Foundation spent around $35,000, but many elements of the community came together with voluntary donations of money, labor, and materials to undertake a project designed to assist in helping solve the long-term health needs of the island.
The River Cottage is a fairly large, 12-room home sitting on the bluff overlooking the Wailuku River, just mauka of the upper parking lot at Hilo Medical Center.
How did the River Cottage come to be? It goes back to 1946 and 1947. The Pu’umaile Hospital was a facility at the end of Kalanianaole Avenue in Keaukaha that specialized in treating Tuberculosis patients. Between the tsunami in 1946 and high waves in 1947, the facility became unusable. It was torn down,and the TB patients were moved to a temporary Naval Hospital at Hilo Airport, and then to the new Pu’umaile Hospital located where the Otsuka Veterans Home is today on the grounds of Hilo Medical Center. The River Cottage was built as the home for Pu’umaile’s superintendent—it was a common practice to provide housing for the superintendents at that time.
Eventually, TB was conquered, and the Pu’umaile Hospital was no longer needed. The old Hilo Memorial Hospital below Rainbow Falls was closed and moved to its new home, fhe former P’umaile, renamed Hilo Hospital. The River Cottage was used for a time as a residence for the Hospital Administrator…but about 10 years ago, IRS rules msde it clear that the fair market value of the residence, if added to the Administrator’s compensation, would be unworkable. So the River Cottage was left empty.
It’s an unfortunate truism that a vacant building deteriorates fairly rapidly, and such was the case with the cottage. HMC really did not have much use for it, so it sat unused and unloved. With the advent of the Rural Residency Program, however, it was suggested as a possible place where medical students, family medicine residents, and nurse practitioner students might stay during their training period in Hilo; left to their own devices, they have difficulty in finding available and affordable housing. With demographic studies showing a critical future shortage of doctors on the Island of Hawaii, any assistance given to medical students, family medicine residents, and nurse practitioner students might make them far more amenable to locating and setting up practices here once their training is completed. The idea took hold, and HMC started to investigate the idea of renovation and turned to the Foundation for help. The Foundation’s stated mission is “to support the Hilo Medical Center with projects that benefit the greater community”. It is to that end that the Foundation has already completed successful projects including renovation of the HMC Emergency Room, assistance in securing location of the Otsuka Veterans’ Home here, furnishing of a new Transport Van for use by the Extended Care Home, re-carpeting of the HMC lobby, as well as various other in-hospital rehabs and refurnishing efforts. To the Foundation, the project was eminently do-able, and with Community participation could be accomplished at far less cost than otherwise projected.
Inspection showed that the roof was pretty well shot, borne out by very apparent leaks seen on the inside. Repairing that required professional help as well as money. Very cost-friendly bids from some building contractors gave a dollar goal in the $50,000 neighborhood. Funds were provided by some very generous personal Foundations, HMC Foundation Board Members, and individual private donors. A significant quantity of the building, roofing, and painting materials were donated by extremely community-minded companies….a look at the list of contributors tells the story and all are worthy of public thanks and business support. The building repairs went quickly and efficiently. Concurrently, some civic organizations were contacted and volunteered their labor to complete the interior and exterior painting. While foul weather delayed some of that, the interior painting went relatively quickly. Priming of the exterior was then completed and professional final coating was done on a volunteer basis by a licensed professional painter. Some “sweat equity” by Foundation Board members, as well as an assist by HMC maintenance personnel, took care of the many minor details involved in making the cottage ready for occupancy.
And that’s where “heart-warming” comes in. According to the Foundation spokesperson, over 200 individuals, both from community civic organizations and simply on their own have been involved in this project. “It has truly been a boot-strap effort from start to finish”, according to the spokesperson, and accomplished at less than a fourth of what it would have otherwise have cost. The Foundation extends thanks to all who helped……by joining together, good people can do great things! The Foundation will do a blessing of the building March 2, and expect occupancy by medical students and Residents starting in April.