By CHELSEA JENSEN
Stephens Media Hawaii
Nonprofit Puna Community Medical Center is moving forward with plans to construct a comprehensive medical center to help meet the medical needs of the seemingly ever-growing Puna District.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Land Division, anticipates a finding of no significant impact for the construction of the center’s first phase, a free-standing emergency room facility, on about 5 acres of vacant state land off of Highway 130, Keaau-Pahoa Road, about eight-tenths of a mile north of the Pahoa Marketplace and 210 feet north of the Pahoa police and fire stations, according to a draft Environmental Assessment released Wednesday by the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. The nonprofit is seeking to lease the state land, zoned agriculture, for a 35-year period.
The first phase free-standing ER, which means it is not connected to a hospital, is expected to include an intake and reception area, emergency room, acute care clinic, clinical lab, X-ray area and office space as well as the required infrastructure, which includes a septic system, cesspool, parking, ambulance turnaround area, driveway and sidewalks. The facility will be constructed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards and will utilize solar energy for electricity and hot water.
The draft assessment does not include information on an anticipated cost for the first phase, an expected start date, or time line for construction. Malama O Puna President Rene Siracusa said the first phase might cost between $3.5 million and $5 million, though that could change because the project is early in the planning stage.
Siracusa said the center hopes to secure the state land lease by January and it will then begin seeking grants and other funding sources. A construction start date is contingent upon funding, she added.
Puna Community Medical Center, founded in May 2007, is already operating in the Pahoa area through its urgent/acute care clinic opened off Pahoa Village Road in February 2009. Some 23,000 patient visits have already been recorded; the clinic averages 500 monthly visits. According to the assessment, Hilo Medical Center confirmed the clinic’s presence has reduced the hospital’s emergency room load.
In addition, “discussions with the EMTs stationed at the Pahoa Fire Station have informed us that with only one ambulance, when there are back-to back calls for emergency services, if no other ambulance is immediately available to respond, the second call in has to wait until the first has picked up its patient, delivered him or her to Hilo Medical Center’s Emergency Department, returned to Puna and then gone on to the second patient. The time expended in travelling means that the second patient has to wait longer for treatment and pain relief. … With an Emergency Room virtually across the street, EMTs envision a shorter turnaround response time that will save lives and avert needless suffering.”
While Bay Clinic facilities in Keaau and Pahoa also provide care, there remains sometimes long waits for care. Those facilities are open Monday through Friday and closed on holidays. Urgent care centers are closed Sundays and holidays, according to the assessment. When unable to receive care, patients often end up requiring emergency room care.
The need for expansion is also exemplified in the assessment by the continuing population growth (a 24.5 percent increase in population size 200, according to Hawaii County) in the district in addition to Puna being a federally designated a “Medically Underserved Area” with a primary care provider shortage. The area also has similar designations for mental and dental health care, according to the assessment.
Future amenities, which would be built in phases when funding become available and need dictates, would include a birthing center, helipad, dental clinic, hospital, maintenance and storage building, alternative healing center, senior daycare and, possibly, other related elements, according to the draft.
Such a facility is included in the goals and objectives of Puna Community Development Plan, which became county ordinance in 2008. A “comprehensive medical center with trauma care” remains one of the plan’s Action Committee’s top priorities.
According to the assessment, no threatened or endangered biota is found within the parcel and any work would not impact cultural resources. No archaeological sites have been identified on the land, previously leased through March 2002 to Puna Certified Nursery Inc., however, if any items are found, work would be halted, and the DLNR State Historic Preservation Division notified.
While the facility would be built with access from and to Highway 130, in an area with a posted 55 mph speed limit, a traffic signal is not anticipated, according to the assessment. There is talk of installing a flashing light at the intersection, which according to the assessment is located on a straightaway with sufficient sight distance.
A community scoping meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Pahoa Community Center. Comment forms will be available during the meeting.
The public has through Nov. 23 to comment on the draft assessment. Comments should be sent to: Puna Community Medical Center, 15-2662 Pahoa Village Road, Suite 306, PMB 8741, Pahoa, HI 96778; DLNR, Land Division, Hawaii Island Land Office, 75 Aupuni St., Room 204, Hilo, HI 96720; and Malama O Puna, PO Box 1520, Pahoa, HI 96778.
Email Chelsea Jensen at email@example.com.