Hawaiian Rehab Services owner handing business to daughter

  • Courtesy photo Katie Lopez and her mother, Jean Thompson, at Hawaiian Rehab Services.

KAILUA-KONA — After more than 40 years serving West Hawaii, Jean Thompson, owner of Hawaiian Rehab Services, is passing the torch to her daughter.

What a ride it’s been to get here.

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“I did all of this because I just couldn’t say no,” she said recently, reflecting back on the early days when she was one of the only ones in her profession covering the better part of West Hawaii.

Her beginnings launched far from Hawaii, however.

Thompson, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, started her physical therapy career at Ranchos Los Amigos Hospital in Los Angeles where she learned the concept of team approach to rehabilitation. After three years at that rehabilitation hospital she went to south central Mexico where she set up a private practice.

“I had nothing but my hands. I had to come up with plaster and sticks to make splints. Whatever I could do, that’s what I did,” said Thompson. “It was so phenomenal because I had taken all that knowledge and thinking skills from LA down into Mexico. It was life-changing.”

In 1977, after two years in Mexico and a short stint in Berkeley, California, she moved to Hawaii. In 1979 she started a practice in Kona, contracting with the hospital, Department of Health and schools.

There was an individual who opened Hawaiian Rehab Services in Waimea who asked Thompson to contract with him and together they opened a clinic in Honalo. But he soon got an offer to go to Hilo to work with a medical group and ended up giving the clinic to her.

At one point, as the only PT in West Hawaii, she ran four clinics — Waikoloa, Waimea, Kohala and Kona — and employed about 30 employees.

“There was no one else to do it!” she said.

She quickly realized she couldn’t do it alone, so as soon as she heard a physical therapist moved to town she started recruiting.

In 2014, she closed the Kohala clinic because she could not find a therapist who wanted to live there. She sold the two clinics in Waikoloa and Waimea and put all her efforts into the Kona location, which moved from Honalo to the Hualalai Center.

In 1997 she bought the land behind the Kona Community Federal Credit Union on Hualalai Road and built the clinic, large enough to accommodate future growth.

Her philosophy of going the extra mile and treating the whole person has set her clinic apart and led to the success of her business.

After all that, after 40 years, she decided it was time to retire and hand the reins to her daughter, Katie Lopez.

“She is an amazing person,” Thompson said of her daughter.

Lopez, a 2007 Konawaena High School graduate, went to school at California State University Long Beach, majoring in marketing and business management.

She worked in California for seven years, always knowing she wanted to move home.

Lopez and her husband moved back to Kona in March and bought Hawaiian Rehab in July.

“I’ve always wanted to keep the family business alive,” said Lopez. “It’s been an honor to be able to continue the legacy but come in with a new perspective, update and rebrand a little.”

“Katie has an amazing work ethic. She started in our clinic when she was in high school cleaning rooms, answering phones and filing,” said Thompson.

“I’ve always seen my mom run the company as a physical therapist and administrator,” Lopez said, calling it “a juggling act.”

Lopez said she is focusing on marketing, HR, PR and building maintenance. She plans on rebranding and refreshing the company while keeping the core values her mother set in place.

“I’m excited for the future,” Lopez said.

The clinic staff currently includes one occupational therapist, one speech therapist, an acupuncturist, six physical therapists, a massage therapist, mental health counselor and an orthotics-prosthetics associate.

“I’m looking to expand our wellness side of the company, including wellness classes, bring in a nutritionist, offer yoga classes and other exercise classes,” Lopez said.

She said she wants to carry on her mother’s team approach to treating patients with multidisciplinary professionals.

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“It’s been a great ride. I feel like I’ve made a difference in the community, not just in the delivery of health care here, just trying to help people put their lives back together and I think Katie’s going to do a great job. She’s got the heart,” Thompson said.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.

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