Waianae health hub's expansion starts today
Groundbreaking was scheduled today for a long-awaited facility at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Care Center that officials say will change health care for patients.
"It is a real milestone," said Richard Bettini, chief executive officer, explaining that nearly 10 years of planning have gone into upgrading the small center to meet growing health needs on the Leeward Coast.
The new three-story Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Family Medical Building is designed to change health care "to focus on prevention and early intervention," Bettini said. "To do that, we need a different kind of facility to provide integrative care."
Sandra Oba, director of development, said native Hawaiian healers, psychologists, dietitians, primary care physicians and others providing health care services will go to the patients' rooms instead of patients going from one department or exam room to another.
"All direct services will be provided in one location," she said. "Imagine if you have an elderly mom in a wheelchair and have to go room to room. That's so frustrating, especially for a senior with multiple chronic conditions."
About 51 percent of the center's patients are native Hawaiians, who have among the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension in the state.
The Waianae center, founded in 1972, is the oldest and largest of 13 community health centers in Hawaii and the only health care "safety net" on the Leeward Coast for uninsured, homeless and needy families.
It's one of the few health facilities that offer traditional native Hawaiian health services, as well as Western medicine and technology, Oba said. "Our treatment outcomes are far greater than (would result by) just providing one type of service."
The new $12.2 million building will have training rooms on the first floor for a medical school starting next year, a pediatric clinic on the second floor and women's health services on the third floor. When the building is completed next summer, the present facility will be renovated for a new adult medicine clinic, Oba said.
She said the Waianae center was "very, very lucky" because "three government entities helped us obtain private foundation and individual gifts. It is a great private-public partnership."
She said Tony Guerrero, vice chairman of First Hawaiian Bank and the center's capital campaign chairman, increased awareness of the center's mission and attracted strong corporate support. "Tony was a former patient of ours," she said, adding that he has a home in Makaha and realizes the value of the center's services in an isolated area.
"Especially when there is a disaster here, we cannot get out of Waianae Coast," she said.
The center last year served 26,936 patients who made 139,210 visits to the clinic. About 62 percent of patients are in families living below federal poverty guidelines, 18 percent are uninsured and 48 percent are Medicaid/QUEST clients, according to the center.
The facility has several programs to address the shortage of health care professionals on the Leeward Coast and create jobs for residents. The latest is a medical school.
It is one of 10 community health centers selected from more than 1,000 across the country to host a community-based medical school with A.T. Still University in Arizona.
The National Association of Community Health Centers started the program because of a growing shortage of primary care doctors, Bettini said.
About 100 medical students will be chosen nationally each year. They will spend one year on the A.T. Still campus in Mesa, Ariz., then 10 each will go to the 10 participating centers for three years.
Bettini said a number of Hawaiians who live on the mainland, as well as local candidates, were among 2,200 applicants this year to start the program.
A community advisory body is helping the Waianae center select students with an interest in integrated primary care and community service, he said. A scholarship committee also is encouraging native Hawaiians to enter medical school, he said.
The hope is after three years of practice at the Waianae health center, they will return to work there, he said.