New palliative care center opens in Hilo

Hawaii Island residents living with life-threatening illnesses now have a new place to turn for help.


Hawaii Island residents living with life-threatening illnesses now have a new place to turn for help.

Hospice of Hilo’s Hawaii Palliative Care Center at the Pohai Malama a Harry &Jeanette Weinberg Care Center will open its doors for business today, and celebrate a grand opening event on Feb. 12.

Too often, said Brenda Ho, CEO at Hospice of Hilo, patients who are battling potentially terminal illnesses come to accept that pain and discomfort are just part of the territory. Their physicians may be pressed for time, and the patients feel like they haven’t had a chance to really sit down and talk with someone about how to boost their quality of life.

That’s where palliative care comes in, she said.

“People often make the mistake of thinking that we’re here to help people die,” she said. “But what we’re really doing is helping them live.”

The center’s staff members partner with patients’ physicians and specialists, in concert with their existing treatments, to help patients and families navigate the health care system, address pain and symptoms, and clarify care planning options.

“Health care is complicated and there are many people unnecessarily suffering because they are not receiving the kind of comfort care, pain management, and navigational support they need,” Ho said. “We hope to offer an extra layer of support that will help patients and families find peace in the chaos of their serious illness.”

Dr. Frances Spector, the center’s Palliative Care physician, said she expects to be able to see up to six patients a day, mainly because meetings with patients are usually very time intensive.

“That’s something they may not be used to,” she said. “Some have never had that chance to talk, ask questions. I’ve learned to really just sit and listen. To let them do the talking for a while.”

The process may seem simple, but it can often yield amazing results, she said. For instance, patients are always asked to bring a bag filled with all of the medications they are currently taking. A simple perusal of their medications, as well as a short conversation, can improve a patient’s life immeasurably, Spector said.

“Often, there may be drug interactions that are causing some of their symptoms,” she said. “And in talking with them, you learn that many may not be taking the medications as directed. Studies have shown less than 50 percent of patients take their medications as directed.”

On staff at Hospice of Hilo for about a year, Spector brings 40 years of experience with palliative care, was a founding member of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center’s first palliative care program, and served as medical director of Hospice Care at Kaiser in Oakland.

She says the new care center will give her a home base in Hilo, and more resources with which to help her patients.

Alongside Spector, staff members include Joanne Potts, who will serve as the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, and Julie Kai, a certified family counselor who will serve as coordinator for Hawaii Palliative Care Center’s Transitions program. Transitions is a volunteer-driven component of the palliative care program.

The center, located at 590 Kapiolani St., includes a physician’s office, a patient exam room, and a reception area.

However, the center’s palliative care services don’t just stop at the door.

“Since the overall population in the service area is relatively small, the best option to provide this service was to create a partnership between Hospice of Hilo and the East Hawaii Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation,” Ho was quoted as saying in a press release.

Through the collaboration, the HPCC team will also offer palliative care consultation services and support for patients and their families in both the acute and long-term care departments at Hilo Medical Center, Ka‘u Hospital, Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua, and Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home.


“Our patients need more support when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-limiting disease,” said HHSC East Hawaii Region CEO Howard Ainsley. “Many of these patients would benefit greatly from comprehensive pain and symptom management and care coordination as they seek curative treatment. This is why we strongly support Hospice of Hilo’s efforts to create the only palliative care center on the island of Hawaii.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email