UH Med Now
Anonymous donor gifts new service van to the JABSOM H.O.M.E. Project
Erida Reichert Klemmer, MD, was a well-loved physician in Hawaiʻi who passed away more than 20 years ago. The impression she left on her family and loved ones inspired an anonymous donation in her honor: A new service van to the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s (JABSOM) Hawaiʻi Houseless and Medical Outreach Education (H.O.M.E.) Project. “The Erida” was dedicated in early March 2022.
Invited to provide blessings for The Erida, Kahu Sam ʻOhu Gon III explained to those present what his ‘oli meant before he began his song: Protection for the people from the past, and those present. To honor the spiritual aumakua for steadfastness. To bless the van and introduce The Erida to a long life of service. He asked the family and friends, faculty, students, and staff present to stand close to the van to include them in his blessing. Gon sprinkled them with water from Mount Kaʻala and with the salts in his shell that hung around his neck – Salts from across the state, including those of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
The dedication and the donation of the van couldn’t have come at a better time.
Last September the H.O.M.E. Project’s 15-year old RV was heavily tagged with graffiti, which was voluntarily cleaned up by the Aloha Mustang & Shelby Club. Earlier in 2021, the van was damaged, broken into, and items were stolen. This heavily hindered the Hawaii H.O.M.E. Project’s ability to take their “mobile clinic” out to several unsheltered populations across on Oʻahu, including the Joint Outreach Center in Chinatown and Paiʻolu Kaiaulu Shelter in Waiʻanae.
“Having the smaller van (The Erida) allows us to go to places that are a little smaller, also it helps us go to more places because it’s more reliable and so we’ve actually been able to expand our services to more areas around the island,” said Dr. Jill Omori, director of the Hawaii H.O.M.E. Project.
At the dedication of the new van, Reichert’s sons, Drs. Fred Klemmer and Howie Klemmer, spoke of how honored they were that the purpose of The Erida was to take care of O’ahu’s houseless and underserved communities. Both of them stated it would be something that pleased their mom in the best way.
“My mother grew to love the islands. She came from a privileged family but realized how important it was to be a servant doctor,” Howie Klemmer said at The Erida’s dedication. He also says that the donor witnessed his mom juggling a career in medicine along with being a mother of two kids and always hosting friends in a loud, happy home.
“That ability was inspiring to the donor, who wanted to recognize women and their ability to believe in themselves and have a career and become professionals,” said Howie Klemmer, chief of The Queen’s Medical Center Emergency Department.
He says the H.O.M.E. Project helps keep the homeless from visiting emergency rooms for care, which have been stretched beyond their limits during the pandemic. But like his mother who went to where there were patients who needed her, the program takes medical students to people and places where they can be most effective.
“It’s really getting out in the communities and seeing how they are living, and really doing outreach that matters. Combining that work in a way that’s constructive with clinics and the critical access clinics, and also the hospitals, like Queen’s and others, in a way that we can collaborate and keep the patients on their medications, going to appointments, and getting the care they need with dignity,” said Howie Klemmer.
How our students serve the community through the Hawaiʻi H.O.M.E. Project
Third-year medical student Dylan Singh, the manager of the student-run free clinic at St. Augustine’s Church in Waikiki said that access to care for those who need its services is significant. “The H.O.M.E. clinic may be the only source of health care that patients will receive,” he said. “It’s saddening to see how discrepancies in access to care exist here in Oʻahu. Hearing our patients’ stories and interacting with them at clinic is super inspiring for me and my classmates. It drives our passion for working hard to one day give back, properly serve this community, and hopefully help to alleviate some of these access challenges on a larger level.”
Also present at the dedication were several of JABSOM’s fourth-year students, all of whom wanted to share their experiences with the H.O.M.E. Project outreach. Class of 2022 graduate Dr. Christian Ogasawara felt the pull of volunteering for the program while still an undergraduate at UH Mānoa. “The H.O.M.E. Project does outreach all over the island and this was something I wanted to do to serve my community,” he said.
According to Dr. Jason Huynh (JABSOM MD 2022), outreach helps the medical students develop a valuable awareness of the communities they serve. He also emphasized the experiences that the JABSOM community gains because it is a blend of classes working together: “The first years take the patients’ vital signs, the second years provide care, and the third and fourth years are there to help supervise,” Huynh said.
Dr. Kevin Martinez (JABSOM MD 2022), said that his H.O.M.E. Project experience has been both rewarding and challenging at the same time: “Just because they are an underserved population, it doesn’t mean that they are supposed to get any care that’s less than the best. You still want to give your best to them, with whatever resources you have available,” Martinez said. “Most of the time a homeless individual or somebody that’s underserved, when they do get health care, they try to push you away sometimes, they think they don’t fully deserve our attention. So this population has been very thankful and it’s also very rewarding to do this.”
More about the life of Dr. Erida Reichert Klemmer
Reichert grew up in Northern California, but spent summers in Hawai’i with her family. Her father was a neurosurgeon and brought the family along when he came here to provide his services wherever they were needed. After graduating from Stanford University,, she attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and graduated in 1953. Eventually, Reichert’s medical career brought her back to Hawai’i for good, and to the State Department of Health, where she became the facility director and medical administrator for the Hansen’s disease program.
Her experiences included serving as the medical coordinator of the community studies on pesticides for UH’s Pacific Biomedical Research Center, and a clinical instructor of pharmacology for the School of Medicine. Reichert was instrumental in starting the Hawai’i disaster response system and the statewide emergency medical services system. As chief of the Hansen’s disease program, she served as the physician at Hale Mohalu and made frequent trips to Kalaupapa. She also directed inpatient and outpatient services for the programs.
By Paula Bender
Watch highlights of the Erida van blessing here:
Photos of the H.O.M.E. Project and The Erida in action:
Photos from The Erida Blessing Ceremony: