CHINATOWN (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since Honolulu police helped launch a free urgent care clinic earlier this year in Chinatown, hundreds of homeless people have chosen to go there instead of emergency rooms. It's a change that's saving taxpayers millions and has prompted discussion of opening a second clinic.
Patient Craig Umeno says it used to be when he needed to see he a doctor, he'd go to the emergency room. But Friday he walked to the Joint Outreach Center after a cut on his leg got infected.
Umeno camps nearby and says coming to the free clinic is easier than dealing with the hospital.
"It's right in town. It doesn't take more than 10 to 15 minutes and you're done," said Umeno.
"We see a spattering of private pay patients and even tourists," Dr. Landis Lum said.
But Lum says the vast majority of drop-ins are homeless.
Since opening its doors in mid-April the staff has treated more than 550 patients. The clinic's unique combination of medical care coupled with on-site homeless services is allowing outreach workers to connect with people who normally avoid them.
"People come in. They're vulnerable. They wouldn't necessarily talk to outreach workers on the street," said Outreach Program Coordinator, Vinnesha Bertola. "We've had huge success especially with our mentally ill clients in Chinatown."
Bertola says doctors at the clinic have gotten 11 people on psychiatric medication. Meantime, 25 others have gone into shelter. Six more are now in substance abuse treatment.
Those results prompted talk of opening a second clinic in urban Honolulu. Exactly which community is expected to be announced before the end of the month.
While Umeno isn't ready to talk housing, he knows the option is on the table.
"I know they offer more," said Umeno.
Today he left with a bandage and some antibiotics.
"I would say at the ER his visit might have cost $500. Over here it probably cost one-fifth of that amount," said Dr. Lum.
The Joint Outreach Center is privately funded by grants, The Queen's Medical Center, HMSA and Island Hospice. By diverting non-emergency patients to the clinic savings total more than $100,000 per week.