PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A medical clinic that may be in Pele's path is looking for ways to keep treating patients. The Puna Community Medical Center serves a critical role with roughly 550 patient visits each month. The facility is on Pahoa Village Road, and workers at the clinic could be forced to evacuate if the lava closes in. A new projection from the USGS has the flow possibly reaching the road within 20 days.
"If we're not here, it's going to be a big deal for a lot of people because we take everyone, whether they have insurance or not. It's a no appointment, walk-in basis," explained Dan Domizio, clinical programs director at the center.
The flow front is now traveling on a vacant parcel owned by the state. The flow could spare homes in Kaohe Homesteads and head down to Pahoa, filling the air with smoke and vog.
"We have people coming in with severe respiratory illness and even minor respiratory illness," said Domizio. "We anticipate it's only going to be getting worse as the lava comes closer and closer to town."
The clinic hopes to find another location or operate as a mobile service from a van. The facility could move into the Hawaii County Civil Defense command center at the Pahoa Community Center.
"That would be wonderful. Of course, nobody knows that the community center won't be ground zero for the lava. The community center is as vulnerable as any other place in Pahoa right now," said Domizio.
The medical center has already overcome one obstacle. The facility's insurance wasn't going to be renewed until the state's insurance commissioner intervened. Non-renewals are legal, but his division has a message for insurers serving the Puna area.
"We urge these companies to be good corporate citizens, and do the right thing for the people in this area and the state," said Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito.
The next lava flow community update meeting will be held on September 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pahoa High School Cafeteria. The county has also established an Incident Command Center and Informational Resource Center at the Pahoa Community Center. Residents with questions are invited from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday this week.