By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
What a difference 30 years can make.
What began in 1983 at the Hilo Lagoon Center as a small women’s clinic with five staff members has grown into a health care network serving areas in East and South Hawaii, with nine different locations and 170 employees.
“I’m not sure how many patients they saw that first year, but we had approximately 20,000 patients and approximately 75,000 visits this year,” Bay Clinic Inc. CEO Harold Wallace said Wednesday. “We’ve definitely seen a lot of growth in the last 30 years.”
Last week, Bay Clinic hosted its 30th Anniversary Gala at the Old Sugar Mill at Wainaku, where guests were asked to enjoy “A Taste of the Pacific, Celebrating Bay Clinic’s Diversity,” as the event was called, with food prepared by celebrity chef Ippy Aiona. Proceeds from the event will benefit the continued expansion of the system’s services — which are aimed at treating underserved and uninsured residents — such as the recent addition of a new facility in Ka‘u, said Dawn Hawkins, chairwoman of Bay Clinic’s Board of Directors.
“Just this past Friday we had our blessing for our new Ka‘u Family Health Center in Naalehu,” she said. “We already had a building there, but this is a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.”
Bay Clinic opened its Ka‘u Family Health Center to offer health care to underserved residents in 1996 in response to the closing of the sugar plantation in Naalehu. But after nearly 17 years, the limited and outdated clinical space was not meeting Bay Clinic’s quality of care standards, according to a press release.
The new Ka‘u Family Health and Dental Center will allow Bay Clinic to expand its access to an additional 3,400 new patients and handle an additional 8,500 visits annually, Hawkins said.
“It’s a big change in the amount of patients we’re able to service,” she said. “Our mission is to increase access to care.”
That mission has guided a variety of additions to its network throughout the history of Bay Clinic. Among them:
• 1991 — Pahoa Family Health Center opens
• 1996 — Ka‘u Family Health Center opens
• 1998 — Hilo Lagoon site relocated to Bay Front and expanded to provide medical and behavioral health services.
• 2001 — Keaau Family Health and Dental Center opens
• 2008 — Hilo Bay Clinic relocates to Kinoole Street and renamed Hilo Family Health Center
• 2009 — Pahoa Women’s Health Center opens
• 2010 — Bay Clinic begins mobile dental services to provide dental care to Puna, Ka‘u and Hilo districts, as well as opening its Hilo Women’s Health Center, providing among other things comprehensive OB/GYN services in Hilo
• 2012 — Hilo Family Dental Center opens six exam rooms in Hilo Shopping Center
• 2013 — Ka‘u Family Health Center opens in Naalehu
As for the future growth of Bay Clinic, Wallace said he hopes to see efforts to build a new facility in Hilo that will consolidate the area’s many different services under one roof.
“That’s the grand plan, to have a larger, comprehensive site here in Hilo,” he said. “We’d obviously like for that to happen as soon as possible, but realistically we’re looking at within the next 3-5 years we would like to see that happen.”
Combining Hilo’s Bay Clinic offerings under one roof, including primary care, pediatrics, adult medicine, women’s health, behavioral health and dentistry, would ultimately mean patients wouldn’t have to spend all day walking or on a bus getting between appointments for various services, Wallace said.
It would also provide benefits such as contributing to workforce development efforts, not only for the facility’s own employees, but also area college and high school students, he added.
“We could set up a small university, or training center, where you could offer continuous training, and keep those people here in the community and make the money that they want to make. But to do that, you have to have the larger facility,” he said.
While no plans have been drawn up, nor has any particular piece of property been identified, Bay Clinic officials already have an idea of how big a facility they are looking to add, he said.
“At the smallest level, it could be about 20,000 square feet, but we’d like to have between 25,000 and 28,000. It would also help so we could have a medical supplies distribution center, in addition to dental and medical exam rooms,” he said.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.