Kona man supplies medical gear to isle


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kona resident Rich Smith visited Fanning Island several years ago.




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He rented a bicycle to get around and asked how to find the island's medical director. The bike vendor said he was already talking to him.

It was that encounter that launched Smith's effort to help build a better health care infrastructure on Fanning and nearby islands, which are among the Line Islands in the Republic of Kiribati about 900 miles south of Hawaii.

Smith's effort is currently a one-man operation, but he hopes to turn his nonprofit organization, Pacific C.A.R.E. Missions, into a network of local clinics and medical professionals who donate equipment to the islands.

“;The concern is that we don't get the word out in time to save people's lives,”; Smith said.

Smith started the service in 2003 when he visited the islands. The acronym in the service's name stands for Compassionately Arranging Relief and Equipment, Smith said.

Clinics in the Line Islands are built with tin, and are always short on supplies, Smith said.

“;They're always crying for Band-Aids every time we go down there,”; he said.

The organization's funding comes from donations, but much of it also comes out of his pocket.

Smith mostly used the Norwegian Cruise Line ships to move equipment, but when the company stopped its weekly trips to Fanning in 2007, he began relying on smaller vessels like the 120-foot Kwai.

Although the equipment is donated, the storage and shipping of the items is not free. He has a small warehouse and secure lockable container to hold items for future shipping.

He sets sail today on the Kwai with construction materials like rebar, doors, shelving and other supplies.

Smith has been to the Fanning, Christmas and Washington islands at least 18 times. In previous trips, he has brought donated examination tables, gurneys and medicine cabinets.

The equipment is outdated and was about to be thrown away, but Smith said most of it is in good condition and usable.

Smith said he began the organization himself because he couldn't sit idly by knowing that people were sick and suffering.

“;I've seen a lot of people alive now because we got there in time,”; Smith said. “;I don't want to stand before God, and he tells me, 'Look I gave you an opportunity to save lives. Why didn't you do it?'”;