The police are offering a different kind of service in Chinatown: Health care

The police are offering a different kind of service in Chinatown: Health care

CHINATOWN (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department officially opened a free urgent care clinic Thursday next to its substation on Hotel Street in Chinatown.

In an unusual partnership, police teamed up with doctors and a variety of homeless service providers.

The Joint Outreach Center first started seeing patients in mid-April. Since then, doctors have treated more than 400 people, keeping them out of Hawaii emergency rooms and saving millions of dollars.

Inside the walk-in clinic, the care provided goes far beyond basic medical services.

While the Joint Outreach Center is open to the public, its mission is to help the homeless.

"It's everything from something as simple as come and get a glass of water and some food. We hand out hygiene products and clothing to mental health intervention," outreach program coordinator Vinnesha Bertola said.

The clinic's medical staff treat whoever walks through the door, whether they have insurance or not.

Most patients coming in are in need of some kind of wound care.

Officials say homeless people account for 30 percent of all the emergency room visits at the Queen's Medical Center.

By diverting non-emergency patients to the clinic, savings total about $105,000 every week. All other costs of running the clinic are covered by grants, The Queen's Medical Center, HMSA and Island Hospice.

"It's one person at a time. It's not going to be overnight," Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said.

Ballard said the clinic is a valuable resource to officers, and she hopes the department can play a role helping homeless people off the street.

"Our administration is about taking risks," said Ballard. "We're going to step forward and do what the police department along with the city needs to do to solve the problems that are here. Not only in Chinatown but throughout this island."

After seeing a doctor, additional staff from a variety homeless service providers are on hand to offer housing and help with issues associated with mental illness and addiction.

Over the past two and a half months, in the wake of a soft opening, Joint Outreach Center staff have placed eight patients into shelters or specialty houses. Two more have gone into detox and another two started taking psychiatric medication.

The program has been so successful organizers are already discussing expanding hours from three to five days a week.

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