The Hawaiian Culture of Caring for A Loved One

Back in 2015, a national caregiving advocacy group, known as Caring Across Generations, approached the state of Hawaii in the hopes of passing legislation that would entitle universal long-term care for people requiring senior care.

Organisers from the group assumed it would pass unopposed, but to their surprise, they were met with many of the island’s residents disagreeing with the bill.  So much in fact, that it eventually prevented its implementation.

I thought, OK, this is going to have near universal support when you start to talk to people,” said Caring Across Generations’ political director, Kevin Simowitz.

“And I was surprised at how often, early in the conversation, people would say some version of, ‘I don’t think this is somebody else’s responsibility. I think care is my responsibility. My parents are getting older—I should take care of them.”

So why was a piece of legislation that set out to help Hawaii’s ageing population receive such a large backlash?

An unchanging culture

The answer lies in the seemingly different attitude that Hawaii has towards senior care compared to most other states in the US.

In Hawaii, elderly citizens are referred to as kupuna. This word roughly translates to elder or grandparent, but also has deeper connotations of wisdom and experience that the English language does not so explicitly contain.

Hawaiian culture has always had a large focus on care, in particular, a focus on the assumption and belief that children and grandchildren should look after their elders so they can continue to live normal lives within their own homes and communities.

As such, the idea of sending a loved one away to a long-term care facility goes against years and years of history and beliefs that the Hawaiian people hold dearly. Remaining in home care, with that care primarily provided by family, is the unchanging culture of Hawaii.

A new bill for Hawaii

Fast forward to 2017, and Caring Across Generations have revised their bill, with one now much more in line to coexist with the Hawaiian way of life.

The new legislation would allow Hawaiian residents to be eligible for $70 a day, for 365 days, as long as the resident in question had filed income tax for at least 10 years.

“Our target was to look at what it would cost to help someone get four hours of home or community care,” explained Dr Lawrence Nitz, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

“Seventy dollars means you could plan to go to work, you could take time to meet your child’s teacher. It’s enough to help people avoid losing their jobs, while still balancing care responsibilities.”

It would seem the revised bill is more popular with the Hawaiian population, as it has already successfully passed both through both chambers of the Hawaii Legislature.

All that is left before it can become law is for the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, to sign the legislation. He is set to give his verdict in the coming weeks.



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