East Hawaii News

Pahoa Emergency Room Moving Forward

June 11, 2014, 5:54 PM HST
* Updated June 12, 12:44 PM
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The creation of a stand-alone emergency room near Pahoa recently took several steps forward.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources last month issued a “finding of no significant impact” for an environmental assessment for the Puna Community Medical Center.

The center currently operates an urgent-care clinic in the Pahoa Marketplace, but has ambitious plans to expand its role in providing health care in lower Puna.

The non-profit group is seeking a lease on a five-acre parcel of state land on Highway 130 which is hopes will eventually be the location of a comprehensive medical center.

In April 2012, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed to the lease and center’s plan “in concept,” contingent on the completion of an environment assessment for the project and obtaining the FONSI declaration.

This is the future location of lower Puna's stand-alone emergency room, located several miles west of Pahoa on Highway 130. EA photo.

This is the future location of lower Puna’s stand-alone emergency room, located several miles west of Pahoa on Highway 130. EA photo.

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Rene Siracusa, who prepared the EA, said the next step is to go back before the land board to finalize the lease.

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She said having the lease in hand is critical to obtain grants and other funding for the construction of the facility, the first phase of which would be approximately 4,000 square feet in size.

Lawmakers during the past legislative session appropriated $750,000 toward design of the facility and permitting costs.

Early estimates of the cost of the entire facility were in the $4 million range.

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Siracusa said in addition to the clinic and emergency room, center officials hope to eventually expand to include such services as dialysis facilities, a dental center, birthing center and adult day care.

She acknowledges that could take some time.

“This is a grass-roots, non-profit operation in the poorest district in the state,” she said.

In the first several years of operation since opening in 2009, the Puna Community Medical Center saw more than 23,000 patient visits.

The EA contains letters from a broad spectrum of supporters for the center’s mission.

They include Howard Ansley, CEO of the East Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which runs the state’s hospitals.

Ainsley’s letter noted that Hilo Medical Center operates the state’s second-busiest emergency room which treats more than 40,000 patients annually, and that it can take up to an hour to bring patients from Puna to Hilo’s ER.

“PCMC is a valued partner in the provision of health services to our East Hawaii communities,” he said. “Improved access to emergency services are needed for the residents of Puna. Hilo Medical Center endorses PCMC’s plan to ensure high quality care is available in Puna.”

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