In the late 1800s, the sugar plantations in Hawaii were booming and the contract laborers were the backbone of the industry. During this period, relief to needy persons was provided according to ethnicity by various charity organizations such as the Hawaiian Relief Society, British Benevolent Society and Ladies’ Portuguese Charitable Association.
Although several Japanese charity groups were formed, these organizations provided limited relief and many were in existence for only a short time. However, one such organization, the Japanese Benevolent Society, survived.
The Society was established as a voluntary association in 1892 and incorporated in 1899 as an eleemosynary corporation for the purpose of giving relief to the Japanese in Hawaii whose needs resulted from illness, poverty, accident or other causes.
In January 1900, the Chinatown fire left thousands of Japanese immigrants without homes, food or clothing. The Society provided emergency relief and then immediately started plans to build a hospital.
After raising enough funds, they purchased a site with more than half an acre of land located in the Kapalama district of Honolulu, south of King Street at the end of a narrow lane. In July 1900, a two-story wooden building containing 38 beds was completed and called the Japanese Charity Hospital.
“That the society is accomplishing a great work among the Japanese people in this city was evidenced by the statements submitted by Secretary S. Masuda, who briefly outlined the objects and future ambitions of the of the society.”
“Since the early part of the year 1893 the society has seen the necessity of building a permanent hospital in order to carry out its work of charity among Japanese people. It was about this time that Dr S Kobayashi realized the need of the hospital and decided to erect one at his own expense.”
“With this end in view a temporary hospital was built on leased ground on Liliha, near School street. Satisfactory arrangements were made for the time being with the hospital and the Benevolent society whereby its patients were to be received and treated at special and reasonable rates.” (Honolulu Republican, Oct 6, 1900)
In August 1902, the hospital moved a few miles away into a three-story wooden structure. It had 25 bedrooms, three operating rooms, an autopsy room, a morgue, and a few other specialized rooms. For fifteen years, the Society maintained this hospital until it, too, became overcrowded and rundown.
By September 1918, funds from the Society and public contributions (which included a special donation from Emperor Taisho and the Empress of Japan) helped build a modern facility at the hospital’s third and present site on Kuakini Street.
The 16-building hospital had 120 beds and was equipped with up-to-date appliances and facilities. The institution, whose name was shortened to “Japanese Hospital” in April 1917, was situated on almost four acres of land. By 1920 the Japanese Hospital was the second-largest civilian hospital in the territory.
In 1932, many of the Japanese immigrant men who had worked on the plantations had reached retirement age, were unmarried and had no families to care for them.
In order to assist these elderly men who were not acutely ill but needed a protective environment, the Society built the Japanese Home of Hawaii on the grounds of the hospital using community donations. The 50-bed facility, the forerunner of the present Kuakini Home, provided care, food and shelter for these elderly men.
A major expansion program that was completed in 1939 increased the hospital’s size to 100 beds and provided more services with the addition of X-ray, surgical, pediatric and maternity facilities.
A portion of the new building (designed with a copper dome) was called the Imperial Gift Memorial Building in recognition of the financial support Kuakini received from the Imperial Family of Japan. (In 1934, Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Shōwa) and the Empress of Japan donated 10,000 yen for the hospital expansion program.)
With the onset of World War II in 1941, the U. S. Army took control of over half of the hospital’s facilities. Due to the fact that Kuakini’s Board consisted of descendants of Japanese immigrants, Kuakini was the only hospital in the United States to be occupied by the U.S. Army. In 1942, the hospital changed its name to Kuakini Hospital and Home. The hospital was returned to civilian control in 1945.
A major fund drive in 1951 financed the construction of the hospital’s Ewa wing and part of its Waikiki wing which increased Kuakini’s bed count to 140 beds.
Kuakini received its first accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (now called the Joint Commission) in 1954. At that time, there were 235 employees, 63 full-time registered nurses and 225 doctors on the medical staff.
With its modern, well-equipped facilities, the hospital was an excellent training ground for interns in need of further medical experience. Physicians from Japan came to Kuakini to receive training in American medicine before going to mainland hospitals for additional experience.
Senior medical technology students from the University of Hawaii spent a year in the hospital’s laboratory for training and nursing students obtained their clinical experience in medical and surgical nursing at Kuakini.
In 1956, the governing Board of Kuakini authorized the use of an architectural consultant to assist in the development of a master plan for future physical expansion at Kuakini.
In the late 1950s, more physicians became specialists and pediatric and obstetric patients began to seek these physicians as well as the specialty hospitals for their care. With the resulting low occupancy rate of its obstetrics and pediatrics units and the need for more medical/surgical beds
Kuakini eliminated its obstetrics department in 1964 and its pediatrics department in 1967. This decision not only benefited Kuakini through the availability of more beds for medical and surgical services, but it also helped increase census at the specialty hospitals in the community through the elimination of duplicate services at Kuakini.
Through the years, Kuakini has kept pace with the community’s demand for quality health care. The hospital was renamed Kuakini Medical Center in 1975 to reflect its expanded programs to the community and in celebration of its 75th anniversary.
Kuakini has the distinct honor of being the last surviving hospital established by Japanese immigrants in the US. Kuakini Medical Plaza, an eight-story physicians’ office building next to the Medical Center, was completed in 1979 to provide a medical facility that enables doctors to be near their hospitalized patients.
In March 1980, Kuakini dedicated its Hale Pulama Mau (House of Cherishing Care) building. Acute medical/surgical services as well as geriatric care services are provided within Hale Pulama Mau. A second physicians’ office building, the Kuakini Physicians Tower and a new parking facility for employees were completed in 1998.
Today, Kuakini is a 250-bed acute care hospital. (Lots of information here is from Kuakini Health System.)