Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor on the Big Island, and Dr. James Ireland, a community physician, are partnering to open the Aloha Free Clinic to help those who do not qualify for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income residents. The clinic will open on June 1 through Aug. 31 at the Kalihi Medical Building at 2055 N. King St.
“It was shocking how may people in Hawaii are unemployed — more than 200,000. It’s an incredibly sad number,” Ireland told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The thought of a 7-year-old not being able to breathe because they just can’t get their asthma medications filled is unacceptable. We know that if you have chronic medical conditions and go without your medications, bad things can happen.”
Most workers in Hawaii have health insurance through their employers, which are required under state law to provide coverage for employees working at least 20 hours per week. But as businesses closed, tourism dried up and residents were ordered to stay home, Hawaii’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to the highest in the nation at more than 30%.
“It’s not a homeless clinic and it is not a pain clinic, it’s a clinic to help people who are having a tough time economically due to COVID-19. We hope to get donated generic medications and support for basic lab tests, but the main thing it’ll be is to give people some basic primary care while they’re in limbo during the COVID-19 crisis,” Green said. “The goal is to keep it simple and take care of as many people as needed.”
The clinic will particularly focus on patients with chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems, asthma and COPD.
“If these go untreated, even for a few months, you run the risk of stroke, kidney failure, dialysis and worsening of your overall health. That would just be a tragedy upon tragedy,” Ireland said. “If you need care and have to go to the ER because you have no medications the ER is actually the most expensive place to get care when you’re uninsured. If you’re having an emergency you absolutely should go to the ER, but if the situation is you just need a refill on your diabetes medicines, that’s what we want to help with.”
A local humanitarian, who asked not to be identified, has agreed to cover the rental costs and Green said he is already seeing volunteers step up from the Hawaii Health Corps., a group of medical volunteers who also helped with the lieutenant governor’s measles vaccination campaign last year in Samoa.
The clinic, which will utilize nurse practitioner students from Hawaii Pacific University, will treat patients not able to come in or too afraid to leave their homes via video conferencing on Zoom. If successful, telehealth may be expanded to patients on the rural neighbor islands, Ireland said.
Patients who obtain health insurance will be directed to go back to their original primary care providers or to community health centers. The clinic will not treat or test COVID-19 patients or those with chronic pain who need narcotics, but will help patients needing refills of routine medications for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.
While outpatient medical visits are free, the group is looking for donations from businesses to cover other out-of-pocket costs.
“We are hoping if we have an outpouring of donations and partnerships with businesses in the community, our goal is to get those medications and any lab testing needs covered without cost so there’s no cost to the patient,” Ireland said. “We do expect the economy to turn around, the jobs to come back and we do expect people to get their medical insurance again so this is a bridge. For those who can help, this is a great opportunity to really help people at at time when it is their greatest needs.”
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