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Construction set to begin on West Hawaii Community Health Center at Kealakehe's first phase

Updated: 
December 13, 2013 - 12:54pm

The West Hawaii Community Health Center at Kealakehe moved one step closer to fruition Thursday as dozens feted its ground breaking.

Construction of the medical and dental facility’s nearly 11,000-square-foot first phase within the Lai opua Community Center Complex is expected to get underway next month with a projected opening date to patients of May 2015, said Richard Taaffe, West Hawaii Community Health Center executive director.

“This ceremony and facility isn’t all about building a strong, vibrant, healthy and dynamic community,” Taaffe told those attending the ground breaking held at the project site situated between Ane Keohokalole Highway and Keanalehu Drive, south of Kealakehe High School. “It’s about building a modern-day puu honua — a place of wellness and safety, a place of healing and that’s what it’s about.”

The $5 million first phase will include four exam rooms, a procedure room, three dental operatory rooms for pediatrics, two dental operatory rooms for adults and patient service and equipment storage areas. Funding for the medical center’s construction was secured in 2012 via a federal Health Services Administration grant.

This facility will enable West Hawaii Community Health Center to care for several thousand new patients, minimize wait time for appointments, enhance coordination of health and social services and improve health outcomes.

“This is only the start of this journey and we have many parts of this journey left,” Taaffe said, noting the medical and dental center’s second phase as well as the need to raise approximately $500,000 to equip the first phase.

A second phase, expected to cost about $7 million, would bring the two-story clinic to 26,000 square feet and include space for administration and more room for family practice, reception and outreach. Funding for that phase has yet to be secured, said Taaffe.

The center announced it secured the $5 million in funding for the project during a September 2012 meeting, but was unable to get work underway because funding was still needed to cover infrastructure such as sewer, water and electricity.

Since then, some $4.5 million was acquired through New Market Tax Credits, a federal program created in 2000 that provides means for banks to invest in low-income community projects in exchange for tax credits, to cover infrastructure costs for the site, Taaffe said.

When complete, the soon-to-be-under-construction center will bring the number of West Hawaii Community Health Center facilities to five.

Current operations include a health center and mobile dental van in Kailua-Kona, and one facility each in Kealakekua and Waikoloa. The Waikoloa center opened in the Waikoloa Highlands Shopping Center in February. An estimated 11,000 patients were served at West Hawaii Community Health Center facilities in 2012.

“This gives us an opportunity to serve more people and many of the residents of Laiopua are already patients at our clinic” in Kailua-Kona, said Taaffe.

A moment of silence was held during the ground breaking to honor the late Department of Health Director Loretta J. Fuddy, who was killed in a Wednesday plane crash off Molokai.

“She was a huge friend and supporter of community health centers and of the health and wellness in this state,” Taaffe said. “It’s going to be a huge loss for us all.”

The West Hawaii Community Health Center is one component of the long-planned Lai opua Community Center Complex that will be built on 16 acres leased from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands adjacent to Kealakehe High School and makai of Keanalehu Drive in North Kona. It will likely be completed in four phases and cost about $26 million.

At full build-out, the center will include the health center, as well as a community center, social services, a preschool, gymnasium, aquatic center, amphitheatre, open halau, walking garden path and infant, toddler, and adult day care program.

The West Hawaii Community Health Center is a nonprofit entity working to provide health care to the underserved, underinsured and uninsured. It opened in 2005 and received Federal Qualified Health Center status in 2006.

For more information or to contribute to the West Hawaii Community Health Cetner’s efforts visit westhawaiichc.org or call 326-5529.