5 Things Hawaii: Mental health solutions, Economic forecast, Broadband funding

Every bright summer day seems like one more day we are closer to having the pandemic behind us. Yet, I’m getting this feeling that the post-COVID economy is going to be too fast and too furious for my liking. The WSJ says “The economic recovery is here. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” The case they make isn’t good.

In this time where the centrifugal forces of the American economy will make everything we do in health care a little harder, it means cross-silo collaboration will be even more important. It means leaning into authentic relationships, as professionals and as organizations, will be even more important. And, that the work you’re doing to improve the health of our communities will be even more important.

That’s the work we’re all here for. Thanks for letting us play this small role to help you.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Mental health solutions for Hawaii

A recent Mental Health America report finds Hawaii had the highest percentage (41%) of individuals reporting suicidal ideation among those who took a depression screen in 2020. The report, which aims to identify states across the country with the greatest looming need for suicide prevention resources after the pandemic, also found that Hawaii ranked 5th highest for the proportion of individuals reporting frequent thoughts of suicide or self-harm compared to the overall state population.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, last week we hosted a “5 Slides We’re Watching” conversation on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in Hawaii. The panelists – which included Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Kumi MacDonald at NAMI-Hawaii, and HMSA’s Katy Akimoto – discussed care integration, gender differences in service utilization, school-based care, and what Hawaii is doing to help those struggling during this time. It was a good conversation, talking through the impact of the pandemic on our mental health and what we can do together to support working through it all.


2. Vaccinations drive economic forecast improvements

A new forecast from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) predicts total visitor arrivals in Hawaii will climb to more than 70% of their pre-pandemic levels by late summer. UHERO says this is due, in part, to a strong local and national vaccine rollout.

In April 2021, the statewide number of daily visitors surpassed half of the pre-pandemic level with all of the recovery taking place in the domestic market. However, UHERO says the recovery of jobs has trailed tourism, with March 2021 payrolls still more than 100,000 jobs below their pre-pandemic level.

3. Recommendations to address COVID disparities

A report from the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission outlines ways the Biden administration and local leaders can help address the disparities experienced by Pacific Islander communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite making up just four percent of Hawaii’s population, Pacific Islanders accounted for 24% of the state’s diagnosed COVID-19 cases through the end of January.

To address these disparities, the report recommends the US Dept. of Health and Human Services actively reach out to COFA migrants to ensure that they are aware they are now eligible for Medicaid. The advisory committee also recommends standardized, detailed data collection about Pacific Islander communities and better education about the needs of vulnerable communities in the health care system.


4. SCOTUS ruling opens door for text messaging health outreach

A recent US Supreme Court ruling opens the door for health plans to interact with members and provide outreach via text messaging by making changes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Abner Mason, CEO of ConsejoSano, says the ruling is a “game changer” for health care stakeholders and their ability to communicate with hard-to-reach patient and member populations.

“We really believe this is a health equity issue. This is part of meeting people where they are and the shame is that it’s taken this long,” said Mason. “The fact that health plans have been unable to engage their members in the way the member prefers is just an example of how our health care system needs to change.” Mason and Marcia Augsburger, Partner at law firm King & Spalding, explain the ruling and its impacts in detail here.


5. ARPA funds slated for broadband expansion

Federal pandemic relief funding is slated to help pay for improvements to Hawaii’s broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas of the state. US Census Data shows from 2015 to 2019, only 84% of households in the state had a broadband subscription and just 77.5% had a subscription in Hawaii County.

Five million dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act is slated for the recently established broadband infrastructure grant program, which will award funding to provide broadband services to underserved areas of the state. Lawmakers also reserved $10 million in ARPA funds for the state Department of Accounting and General Services to help finance new cable landings for both trans-Pacific and interisland cables.