Military’s new Red Hill clinic to staff skin, brain, stomach and behavioral health specialists

About 6,000 people were sickened by the Navy water contamination crisis.
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 5:40 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2022 at 10:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The military’s Red Hill clinic for patients who may be experiencing chronic symptoms from last year’s fuel spills that tainted the drinking water will staff a number of specialists.

They include doctors who specialize in skin, the brain, stomach issues and behavioral health.

Dr. Kevin Nakamura, chief Medical Officer for Defense Health Agency Region Indo-Pacific, said the facility is intended to be a one-stop shop with everything from primary care to neurology.

Patients can schedule an appointment by calling the TRICARE Nurse Advice Line at 800-874-2273.

In the immediate aftermath of the Navy’s tainted water crisis, the military health care system treated about 6,000 patients who said they were exposed to fuel.

On Thursday, leaders launching the new clinic didn’t have an immediate answer about how many patients are dealing with longer term symptoms ― one year after the Red Hill fuel spills.

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

But members of the military community have been asking for months for a specialized facility to deal with their chronic symptoms.

Among those who plans to seek an appointment is a woman who asked that only her first name, Lou, be used.

She said fuel-tainted water sickened her family.

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

And today, 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.

As soon as appointments open on Dec. 27, Lou and others are hoping to get into the clinic, which is at Naval Health Clinic Hawaii’s Branch Health Clinic – Makalapa on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The clinic opens Jan. 3.

The clinic is for service members and their families who may be experiencing lingering symptoms related to the Red Hill fuel spills. It 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 petroleum products,” he said.

“You don’t know whether the positivity is due to pouring gasoline into your lawn mower at home, breathing it at the gas station or if it was from ingesting it from contaminated water.”

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, known as forever chemicals, which were part of a Nov. 29 spill of firefighting foam at Red Hill. The response: The military would provide that answer later.

HNN also didn’t get an answer on how many patients had been diagnosed with hydrocarbon toxicity.