Friday | December 15, 2017
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Office of Aging’s possible move questioned

Some of the people who could be affected by a potential move of the Hawaii County Office of Aging are raising concerns about whether the idea is in the best interest of the county and the people the office serves.

The county Department of Finance is weighing options for the future of the office in Hilo. Should services for elderly residents be moved to the former Safeway grocery store location at Prince Kuhio Plaza? Or should the office stay where it is — at the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 1055 Kinoole St.?

“There is apparently quite a bit going on about this in different corners,” said Sam Nagasawa, independent living program director for Aloha Independent Living, a nonprofit organization with its office upstairs at the ADRC, which pays rent separately.

C. Kimo Alameda, county executive on aging, acknowledged concerns about the future of the office from county employees and Office of Aging patrons, but he sees positives and negatives about both options.

“Our seniors are wondering about it,” he said. “Half of them feel it could be a good thing. The other half of them are concerned about the traffic.”

Alameda likes the one-stop-shop idea of the proposed new location, with the Social Security office located at the mall, a nearby drugstore, places to eat and retail stores nearby. He also said the Finance Department told him the floor plan of the Office of Aging will be replicated at the new location if the move occurs.

“There could be blessings,” he said. He notes the popularity of services offered by the Office of Aging suggests “sooner or later … we might have to expand.”

But he worries about patrons using the new location. They’ll have to hunt for parking spots at the already-bustling shopping mall and there will be a need to renovate the former Safeway store to make it accessible. The Office of Aging also will be required to keep essential services flowing during a move.

The Office of Aging currently leases 17,000 square feet at the Aging and Disability Resource Center. The building and its parking lot are considered in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act after parking spaces were widened this year.

Alameda likes the ADRC’s familiarity — senior citizens know where the Office of Aging is located. He also likes the building’s accessibility, especially for mobility-challenged patrons, and having the office in a location with which staff already are familiar.

But the Finance Department might put multiple services, including the Office of Aging, in the 39,000-square-foot former Safeway site.

Alameda wonders what could happen to traffic when employees leave at the end of the day.

If the county Office of Housing and Community Development were to move to the new location alongside the Office of Aging, for example, “technically that could be 100 employees leaving at 4:30 — at one time,” Alameda said.

All in all, he prefers the ADRC location.

“I don’t really see the negatives, as much as maybe Finance,” Alameda said. “I’m leaning toward staying here, if I had a choice.”

The county’s lease at the ADRC building ends in June 2018. Charles Ensey told the County Council in October, on behalf of the building’s owners, that they’re open to selling the building to the county. He did not reply to a request for comment.

County Finance Director Deanna Sako told the Tribune-Herald in October that the department wants to do what’s most economical for the county and could potentially put both buildings to use.

Last week, she confirmed she received a copy of a new appraisal of the ADRC building.

However, on Monday she declined to provide a copy to the Tribune-Herald, saying through her secretary it won’t be released until the county completes negotiations with the ADRC building’s owner.

County records show the property was last assessed in June at $3.6 million ($2.4 million for the building and $1.2 million for the land).

The County Council accepted a request from Sako in October to postpone authorization of a lease for the former Safeway building to give the Finance Department time to get the appraisal of the ADRC building.

“We are not moving. We do not have the money to move,” Nagasawa said about her organization. Aloha Independent Living refers clients downstairs to the Office of Aging when elderly residents need transportation services, nutrition help such as Meals on Wheels, parking placards, kupuna care, resource referral, temporary chore services or public health nursing.

“Most of the time,” Nagasawa said, “it’s the opposite — they send them up to us.” Often, that’s when an aging person with a disability has never applied for disability benefits before despite qualifying.

Aloha Independent Living helps people with disabilities access housing, apply for benefits or find information and resources in the community.

The mall location, Nagasawa said, will have too much traffic and be a burden for elderly residents.

“It’s going to be a big problem,” she said. “I really don’t see this being user friendly.”

Nagasawa appreciates the ability to help senior citizens who get referred from the Office of Aging to her organization at the ADRC.

“I feel this place was designed and remodeled for the specific purpose of Aging and Disability Resource Center,” she said. “It’s a comfortable environment for the elderly to come here.”

She worries because she thinks Office of Aging workers can’t speak openly about concerns.

“Pretty much everybody downstairs, they’re all county. So they can’t really speak out,” she said.

Email Jeff Hansel at


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