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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Kaiser doctor Chaffin
has his hands full

I know and admire a lot of good people.

Among them, one stands out for doing the near-impossible and doing it day in and day out.

Dr. Michael J. Chaffin has brought the Kaiser Health Plan's medical group, which he has headed for nine years, to recognized national and local eminence.

On the side, he and his wife, Rhonda, have raised or are still raising 11 children aged 4 to 28. Eight of them are adopted. Their Caucasian three, born to them, are 28, 26 and 22.

The adoptees, all rescued from troubled backgrounds, are 18, 17, 13, 11, 11, 9, 7 and 4. Ethnically they include Chinese, and bits of Japanese, Caucasian, Polynesian and more.

Mrs. Chaffin has become a full-time mom since the last four adoptions (all from one family) but previously was an instructor in human resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Her husband calls her a natural mom who knows and understands kids, meets them where they are at and guides them to where they ought to be.

The Chaffins never expected to have so many children, he says, but it just turned out that situations led to it and they count themselves blessed.

Schools the adopted eight attend include Punahou, Mid-Pacific Institute and St. Mark's Lutheran in Kaneohe, where they live. The 22-year-old of the original three is still in college at the University of Southern California.

The heavy lifting to meet such educational expense is something they do by watching expenses elsewhere, doling out chores, accepting hand-me-down clothing, trading homes and cars for vacations, and having the older children find part-time work.

Sometimes Mom and Dad hold private parties with candlelit dinner and video while the kids watch Disney with pizza. They have part-time housekeeping help plus limited gardening and pool service. The doctor swims laps to keep fit.

One of his greatest prides is that last year an SMS Research Corp. consumer satisfaction survey ranked Kaiser Permanente the No. 5 company brand in Hawaii after Safeway, Longs, McDonald's and Wal-Mart. That was up from a 1999 rating of 18. It reflected a concerted effort by Kaiser-Permanente to bring up its local image to match its high national rankings from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

NCQA in late 1999 rated it in the top few of 650 evaluated health maintenance organizations in the U.S., and a leader in the Kaiser system. Chaffin said the local satisfaction rating had him "walking on air."

When he took over the presidency of the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group, which now has 340 doctors serving 220,000 patients, Chaffin told the press he couldn't afford from a personal or emotional point of view to manage a health-care system that wouldn't provide the kind of care he wanted for himself, his wife and his kids.

All Kaiser hospitals are committed by their late founder, Henry J. Kaiser, to put preventive health care first. Kaiser took a personal hand in countering stiff Hawaii medical community opposition that called it socialized medicine.

In the Chaffin years, the Hawaii plan has steadily improved with expanded education programs, computerized patient records, creating teams of physicians and other health-care specialists to oversee individual patients and reinforcing out-patient care. The group is so good it can be choosy. Fifty-three doctors applied for a recent heart surgeon opening.

Chaffin chose his medical career after Peace Corps service in Brazil. The idealism that led him to the Peace Corps straight out of high school near Sacramento, Calif., still burns bright.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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