Sunday, June 27, 2010



There are some people who provide such a great community resource that I would be hard pressed to list all of the volunteer work the person does. Such is the case with Karen Sumida.

Most of her volunteer work was with the Queen's Medical Center, but she has recently increased the number of facilities served to include Kuakini Medical, Kahala Nui, Hospice Hawaii, Sacred Hearts Academy, as well as at various churches. Various non profits that she helps include American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Kapiolani Hospital, Arthritis Association, Alzheimer Association, March of Dimes, St. Francis Hospital and the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

Karen volunteers at facilities where patients are going through life and death choices like oncology (cancer), heart, emergency room and hospice care. She does everything from helping with paperwork to visiting and listening to patients as they go through recovery or end-of-life issues. I wonder if some fake their illness just to get the pretty lady to visit them.

Karen also has a collection of awards, including the 2001 Governor Kilohana Award for volunteerism, 1999 Queen's Kokua Pookela Award, 2006 Starfish Award from the Queen's Heart Center, 2007 Fire Starter Award from the Heart Center and a Certificate of Achievement.

She is also involved with music as a healing process where she sings to the patients, dances the hula, teaches sign language and plays the ukulele and guitar. What a full life. And she  works for a doctor, Dr. James Tsuji and at Oliver Baptist Preschool, a preschool after school care service to support herself. Whew!

Born in Los Angeles, she came to Hawaii as a young child when her mom, a Hawaii native wanted to move back home. Karen was about 8 or 9 at the time and had to adjust to life in Kalihi Uka and Waipahu. Big culture shock for a Katonk....a person of Japanese ancestry who was born on the mainland.

Karen has recently lost her mother and takes care of her aging father who is likely in a state of depression over his loss of his wife. Yet, she plugs along with her two part-time jobs and all the volunteer hours she puts in every week.

Ever since she was a child, Karen has always helped those who were weaker than herself or in need and has continued that habit into her adult life. And our community is better for it.

Truly an amazing person.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tommy Fujiwara

TOMMY FUJIWARA, Another Icon who gives back

I first came across Tommy Fujiwara when I was in high school and his brother, a classmate, brought him to a school assembly to entertain us. He was a nightclub comedian and crooner, opening at the Clouds nightclub, where the Queen Kapiolani Hotel now stands near Kapahulu Avenue. He later performed at the Oasis nightclub at Waialae and Kapiolani Boulevard.

Sorry, best picture I could find

Most people know him as a semi-regular on Hawaii Five O although he has had parts in many other T.V. shows that were filmed in Hawaii. He had an uncredited part in the movie, Around the World in 80 Days in 1956.

His T.V. credits also included Charley's Angels, One West Waikiki, Jake and the Fatman and of course, Magnum P.I.

A few years ago, OC 16 had a show (may have been called "Heroes") where they featured people who gave back to the community. Tommy Fujiwara was featured as a person who went to care homes and senior citizen gatherings and entertained. He sometimes did that five days a week. He brought a guitar and entertained the seniors by singing ballads from years past from his repertoire of 2,000 songs.

Many don't know that Tommy was a very good crooner when he worked the nightclubs as a comedian and M.C. I wouldn't be surprised if he could also hoof it a bit as club entertainers were required to do in years past. When I checked with the older musicians that I know, they all raved about him as a singer.

It amazes me that a big name star like him thought enough of his community by sharing his talents with those who are not able to go out and enjoy live entertainment. Or, as he puts it, lifting their spirits. And, doing it quietly and without fanfare. Until that T.V. show caught up with him and did that feature.

He sure inspired me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


MARTIN DENNY... An exotica icon

In 1994, my dad was a patient at St. Francis Hospice in Nuuanu. He was in a terminal condition and we were lucky and grateful that St. Francis was able to accommodate us. One morning, I heard someone playing on the baby grand piano in the lobby and went out to check to see who it was.

There was an older gent, with white hair and an equally white mustache playing some easy listening music. He introduced himself as Martin Denny. I was thrilled. A big star and he quietly played there every Thursday mornings to, as he puts it, feed the souls of friends, families and patients to ease the passing of a human being. I have since found that many big name stars do this as part of their way of giving back to the community.

I knew of him because I was a big fan of his when he played at the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village. Sounds of "Taste of Honey", "Ebb Tide" and of course, "Quiet Village" come to mind.

Originally from New York, where he was a child prodigy, he found himself in Hawaii in 1954 at the age of 43  after serving in WW II. His group accidentally stumbled upon the sounds of frogs, birds, whistles and jungle calls and instituted them in his music. He looked at his music as "window dressing" background to set the mood for visitors to enjoy Hawaii's lush tropical settings.

I learned to hack away at the piano in 2001 and somehow, was drawn to Denny's songs, like "Quiet Village", "Taste of Honey", "Enchanted Sea" and "Ebb Tide" and I still play those songs from time to time. While Denny was a headliner, my music is mostly background "dressing" to set the mood for functions during dinner and cocktail hour. He has had a profound influence on me in my volunteer work as well as the type of music I play.

Martin Denny played his last concert on February 13, 2005 at a benefit to aid tsunami victims and passed away three weeks later on March 3, 2005 at age 93.

Just wanted to feature him because many people volunteer as Martin Denny did, quietly, without a spotlight or demanding credit for it. That's what great people do.

Sunday, June 6, 2010



O.K., O.K. Deep down, I'm a pinhead.

A pinhead is someone who basically doesn't do anything, but assigns blame, does a lot of studies and, puts a boot on some one's throat or neck. Somewhat like our government.

When it comes to caring for our kupunas, the ones who do the actual work, like changing diapers, giving medical care, cleaning them up, and doing all the things that our kupunas can no longer do for themselves are the primary targets of the pinheads.

The following article appeared in the newspapers the other day.

This article presents a strong case for creating more laws, regulations and control over our paid caregivers. To be clear, I do not support our paid caregivers who abuse our kupunas. I do object, however, to having our government increase the regulations on the very people who we depend on to provide this vital service to our aging population. Increased government regulations will increase the costs for everyone and people who cannot afford full service care will not have options for lower levels of service.

Further, more regulations results in more pinheads who are paid more money to tell the caregivers what to do. It doesn't make sense to have more pinheads than caregivers.

See my Pinhead I article.

Something that may be of a bigger concern is when a person chooses to be a caregiver and the kupuna dies while under that person's care and is charged and convicted of criminal negligence.

There are a few facts to remember. First, is that sometimes the kupunas die even under the best of care. They develop bedsores and flesh-eating bacteria in hospitals all the time. Second, is that the average person wouldn't know how to care for the aged because most have not acquired the skills, much less the medical knowledge required. A Certified Nurses' Aide is not a trained medical professional. Most courses for that certification run about 3 months. All these caregivers can do is to do their best.

If the government goes after those who provide care for their loved ones because they either cannot afford nursing or care homes, then many people will opt out of being caregivers. For most people, that's an easy choice because they normally suffer financially, physically and emotionally when they become caregivers. See my Pinhead II article.

So what's the solution? First, is that everyone has to watch for our elderly. That's what healthy communities do. Not pass the responsibility to the government. In the cases of paid caregivers defrauding or abusing their patients, it often happens because family members are not paying attention. They don't visit their loved ones and instead, expect the paid caregiver to take care of everything. Even the best of facilities make mistakes and if family members visit regularly, they can keep a watchful eye or even help when staff members are overloaded.

The second solution, and one which won't require government intervention is to require or demand full disclosure by the paid caregiver. This requires individual responsibility to know exactly which services are provided and which are not. Many choose low-level care because that's all they can afford.  If that's the case, you should  keep a watchful eye on the caregiver, perhaps by helping out when you can. The choice to keep your loved ones there is yours.

Many kupunas don't have family members that can watch out for them. That's where community involvement comes into play. Churches, volunteer groups and other benevolent organizations can help to keep a watchful eye for our kupunas. Heck, I know of at least one State employee who, while working for Social Services, stole from and was convicted of defrauding an elderly client of thousands of dollars. That person now sells annuities and long-term-care insurance to the elderly.

Things become complicated because many care homes have patients receiving Medicaid, which is a taxpayer-funded program. When taxpayers pay, then the government has a duty to regulate and oversee the care. The caregiver cannot, for instance, charge the Medicaid patient $200 a day and charge the patients who struggle to pay out of their own pockets $100 a day. That is committing fraud against the government because it's overcharging the government for the same service. But, it also ends up pricing many non-Medicaid people out of the market.

We have many retired professionals who can offer volunteer guidance on how to spot situations where the kupuna is being defrauded. Retirees are valuable resources that need to be tapped. Or, we can have a nanny state. Except that most states are already bankrupt and can't meet fiscal and pension obligations to existing employees. So we end up with unfunded regulations that cannot be enforced. And we pinheads will continue to multiply.