Health clinic for military families affected by Red Hill fuel spill to open in January

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Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 6:27 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2022 at 6:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Defense Health Agency Region Indo-Pacific announced Thursday that a Red Hill health clinic is set to open in January.

Officials said service members and their families who are experiencing chronic symptoms that may be related to the Red Hill fuel spill can schedule an appointment beginning Dec. 27.

About 6,000 people were sickened by the Red Hill water contamination crisis that impacted 93,000 users of the Navy’s water line.

According to a federal health survey, 75% of those who fell ill reported being sick for a month or more and roughly 87% said their symptoms improved after switching to a different water source.

Of the symptoms, many said they experienced headaches, fatigue, dizziness, skin irritation, diarrhea and nausea.

SPECIAL REPORT - Red Hill: One Year Later

Those eligible for these health services must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

The military said the Red Hill Clinic will operate out of Naval Health Clinic Hawaii’s Branch Health Clinic - Makalapa, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The clinic will open on Jan. 3.

To schedule an appointment call the TRICARE Nurse Advice Line at (800) 874-2273 and requesting an appointment at the Red Hill Clinic.

The clinic will include doctors specializing in skin, brain, stomach issues and behavioral health.

Dr. Kevin Nakamura, Chief Medical Officer for Defense Health Agency Region Indo-Pacific which would oversee the clinic told Hawaii News Now the clinic is intended to be a one-stop shop with primary care, dermatology, neurology, gastroenterology, and behavioral health specialists.

During the immediate tainted water crisis, the military saw 6,000 patients, but leaders didn’t have an immediate answer of how many patients are dealing with longer term symptoms a year later.

Lou, who would only use her first name, says the fuel-tainted water sickened her family.

“We all had GI, burning throats, burning stomachs and rashes,” she said.

She’s still trying to figure out why her son still hasn’t recovered from fatigue.

“He’s a 15-year old that had boundless energy and he’s gone from that to sometimes not even being able to get out of bed,” said Lou.

The clinic will also take virtual appointments for patients who are off-island.

Nakamura says many people have asked about blood tests, but he says it’s difficult to tell if petroleum hydrocarbons in blood would be from the fuel tainted water or other potential exposures.

“There are so many potential incidents where you may get exposed to petroluem products that you don’t know whether the positivity is due to pouring gasoline into your lawn mower at home, breathing it at the gas station, etc or if it was from ingesting it from contaminated water,” he said.

He says doctors plan to monitor patients for a long time.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of concern and anxiety about what the long-term implications of this will be and our approach is to try and let them know we are listening to their concerns,” said Nakamura.

Hawaii News Now asked if patients can get a test for PFAS or forever chemicals and was told we’d get an answer later.

HNN also asked how many patients had been diagnosed with hydrocarbon toxicity and was told they couldn’t answer because of medical privacy.

“Many families have been suffering illness for a year now and although the clinic is welcomed, it’s come way too late for a lot of people,” said Lou.