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Rehab Hospital of the Pacific Reinvents Itself

As Hawaii’s premier rehab facility helps people rebuild their lives, it is also reinventing itself, inside and out.

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The Birth and Life of Rehab Hospital

March 1953  Oahu Health Council invites Dr. Howard Rusk, considered the founder of rehabilitative medicine, to Hawaii to survey the state’s needs.

June 1953  Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital approves plans to establish the Rehabilitation Center of the Pacific primarily to serve polio patients.

Sept. 1953  Rehab opens in two Quonset huts in the back of the children’s hospital with 18 inpatient beds.

May 1956  Plans approved to construct new facility.

June 1957  Rehab opens new building with state-of-the-art pool.

October 1969  The center changes its name to the Pacific Institute of Rehabilitation.

October 1975  The center separates from the Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital and becomes an independent nonprofit and the name changes to Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific. (Sidenote: Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital merged with Kapiolani Hospital in 1978 to become Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.)

Mid-1980s  Rehab begins opening outpatient therapy clinics across the state.

2005-2010  New programs include one blending modern Western treatments and traditional Eastern ones, and another that includes vehicle modifications and helps people drive again. Other new programs focus on women’s health, clinical pilates and aquatic therapy.

June 2011  Launches capital campaign to raise $17.2 million for hospital renovation.

August 2011  Renovation construction begins.

December 2011  Innovation Center opens.

2012  Cardiac Health Program launches.

2013  Rehab celebrates 60th anniversary.


Where Rehab Spent Its Donations

Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific Foundation received $3,078,815 in donations during fiscal 2012. Here’s how it spent the money:


Rehab’s Patients

Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific and its clinics treated 1,330 inpatients and 4,736 outpatients during fiscal year 2012. Here is a percentage breakdown of the inpatients as sorted by diagnosis:


Dennis’ Story

He Gave the Hospital a Second Look and It Gave Him a New Life.

Photo: David Croxford

Life was going well for Dennis Okada.

He was part of a team that had just won a national championship in spear fishing, was a master diver, a double-black-belt martial artist and loved his job as an Aloha Airlines airplane mechanic. He was a youthful 41 years old.

But his good fortune changed in 1986 while tank diving at 150 feet below sea level off Rabbit Island. He surfaced too quickly and lost consciousness.

Okada developed decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends, and ended up in a hyperbaric chamber. Doctors predicted two hours of treatment and he could leave.

But two hours turned into two weeks in the chamber. Okada ended up at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, paralyzed from the waist down and barely able to move at all. He would never walk again.

Rehab Hospital would help Okada begin his physical recovery and adjust to life as a paraplegic. However, the biggest challenge was his emotional recovery.

“I wasn’t the most cooperative patient. I was depressed and didn’t want to be there,” says Okada. “It was as if someone turned off the switch and I couldn’t turn it back on. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to turn it back on.”

After Okada finished his four months at Rehab he had no intention of ever returning. And he didn’t, until 19 years later, when he met mouth painter Morris Nakamura at a craft fair.

Nakamura, who lost the use of his arms and legs due to muscular dystrophy, urged Okada to go back to Rehab to check out the hospital’s Creative Arts Program.
Okada had never painted before, so it took persistent prodding from Nakamura before Okada checked it out.

“My first two paintings were pretty bad, but after about three or four paintings, it was kind of fun,” recalls Okada. He soon discovered a passion for art.

“It was only then, after so many years, that I started to look at things differently when it came to the hospital,” says Okada, who has been painting for seven years now. “I believe this is a place where there can be new life, new hope and new dreams, if you are willing to take it and not be stubborn and hard head, like I was.”

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