HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A visionary project to help better provide healthcare to the homeless on Oahu is starting to take shape.
Located on Kuwili Street, in the heart of Iwilei ― the neighborhood that’s sometimes referred to locally as ‘Ground Zero’ for the island’s homeless crisis ― is a four-story building.
It’s prime property for a first-of-its-kind project that’s intended to free up beds in Honolulu’s already overburdened hospitals.
“We’re really grateful to the City and County of Honolulu for coming up with this building,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
Officials say 90 percent of the homeless people who show up at Queen’s Medical Center emergency room aren’t suffering from a true emergency. The non-emergency patients still need to be seen by doctors, and still take up hospital resources ― potentially preventing others from being seen in a timely manner.
“Those are unnecessary patients that we should be able to see here (at the new Iwilei facility),” said Dr. Scott Miscovich.
Miscovich designed the concept for the facility, which combines healthcare with outreach and housing services, in one convenient location. He says it will be the central piece of a much larger plan to provide healthcare to Oahu’s homeless population.
The city has already opened phase one of the project; the Punawai Rest Stop, which began assisting the homeless in January, provides hot showers and laundry facilities on the Kuwili St. building’s first floor.
Now, a remodel of the top two floors is underway.
“We’re attempting to move people out of Chinatown here, where they can get services,” said Green. “On the top floor there will be 21 units, small studios, about 240 square feet. A lot of people have big challenges on the street. They suffer from chronic disease. They have mental illness. This is a place that will be welcoming to those.”
The third floor of the building will feature a temporary place for homeless people to recover after they’ve been discharged from the hospital. Hospice services will also be provided.
Construction on those two levels is expected to be wrapped up by Christmas, and parts of the renovation work are expected to be sophisticated.
Dr. Miscovich says of the second floor: “It’s going to look very similar to a small emergency room.”
It’ll be equipped with 6 exam rooms, a lab, an on-site pharmacy, an x-ray room and six psychiatric beds.
“A team of psychologists and addiction specialists will be here and rounding everyday to try and get these people into treatment," Dr. Miscovich said. "I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s been missing in our current system.”
The urgent care clinic will be open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and provide support to the Chinatown Joint Outreach Center. The walk-in clinic caters to homeless patients several days a week.
And it won’t be the only place the homeless can seek help. In September, a second Joint Outreach Center is set to open in Kaneohe, and the state says it’s begun looking at sites for a third clinic in Kakaako.
“We’re doing a lot of things simultaneously,” said Green.
Private donors put up $12 million for the project in Iwilei. That’ll cover costs of the build out, as well as 30 months of operation.
In the first two years, the program is expected to save upwards of $100 million dollars by keeping patients out of local ERs.
“Taking the economic pressure off of the system will enable us to have extra resources to do affordable housing,” said Green.
The Lt. Governor says construction on the urgent care clinic will begin immediately, following the completion of the third and forth floors. He hopes it will be ready to open by the end of next summer.