Questions Linger About Which State Agency Should Lead Kalaupapa Memorial Construction


Legislation asking for $5 million for a memorial on Molokai honoring the lives of about 8,000 patients with Hansen’s disease cleared another hurdle in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

Still, there is debate among state agencies over who should fund and build the memorial.

The House Culture, Arts and International Affairs Committee voted unanimously to move Senate Bill 3338 move forward, but not without some resistance from the state Department of Health.

Glenn Wasserman, chief of the nursing division for communicable diseases and public health, told lawmakers that he personally supports the idea of ​​the project, but funding should not be in the hands of the DOH.

He suggested that a revision be made so that it is more of a capital improvement project, since the State Department of Accounting and General Services, which usually manages construction projects, would have more “technical expertise” in its development.

While the DOH is the current governing body for the remaining residents of Kalaupapa, Barren Chan, who leads the Hansen’s disease arm for the DOH, said he believes the department’s expertise lies in health care. , not in construction.

Kalaupapa, Molokai.  January 2021
State agencies are debating who should take the lead in building a memorial for patients with Hansen’s disease in Molokai. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The idea for the memorial surfaced in the early 2000s. And the Department of Health provided written testimony for a 2020 hearing that said it supported the intention to build this memorial as long as appropriations did not supplant not Governor David Ige’s budget priorities. Now, two years later, the DOH has changed its position on taking over full responsibility for the project.

DeGray Vanderbilt, secretary of Ka’ Ohana O Kalaupapa, said he had attended all SB 3338 hearings since the start of the 2022 session and was confused by Wasserman’s statement.

Further concerns about the project were raised by Representative Gene Ward, who expressed reservations about the number of visitors the memorial might attract. Some proponents have proposed that the memorial be located on Oahu instead, to avoid potential congestion from tourists on Molokai drawn to the memorial.

Vanderbilt said he doesn’t see the concern as legitimate because the island receives fewer than 100 visitors a day.

“It’s really for descendants,” Vanderbilt said. “It’s just a different feeling, and it’s a place where people can find closure.”

Representative Linda Clark, who represents Molokai, said she has a personal connection to the Kalaupapa memorial.

“I definitely support Kalaupapa. In fact, my grandmother is buried there. So yeah, they definitely have my support,” Clark said.

Lawmakers have yet to decide how much money, if any, should go to fund the memorial. SB 3338 now moves to the House Finance Committee.

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