The West Hawaii Community Health Center is taking its services farther north.
The federally qualified health center, which now has offices in Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua, is adding a doctor in Waikoloa. Dr. Rob Edmonds, a family practice physician who moved to Hawaii Island in December, will be sharing office space with Dr. William Lawrence at the Waikoloa Highlands Center.
“The community has been wanting health services up here for a long time,” said Richard Taaffe, executive director of the community health center. “We’re happy to do that.”
Right now, Lawrence is the only doctor offering medical services within Waikoloa. For at least three years, West Hawaii Community Health Center officials have been working to find funding and a site to expand their services to the town. Taaffe estimated there are 6,000 to 9,000 people living in the area who could potentially need medical care. Right now, most of them drive to Waimea or Kona to see a doctor, he added.
The Waikoloa Village Association has set aside land for the health center to eventually build its own standalone clinic on, and Taaffe said the clinic has applied for a $3.5 million grant in aid to build the clinic. At the same time, several West Hawaii legislators put in a funding request for about the same amount.
Until then, the health center needed office space, which is expensive, especially when the costs of outfitting a generic rental space for medical services are considered, Taaffe said. That’s why partnering with Lawrence made sense — the office space was ready to see patients without another $30,000 or more in additional investments.
Taaffe said the health center would like to eventually have at least two doctors based out of the Waikoloa office. Two additional staff members — someone to work at the front desk and a nurse — will make the move with Edmonds to the new office. The cost of expanding to Waikoloa is about $450,000 a year, Taaffe said. He expects Edmonds will eventually have about 1,500 to 2,000 new patients and record about 4,000 office visits annually.
The West Hawaii Health Center now has about 250 patients from Waikoloa, many of whom travel to Kona for dental services. The community health center is not looking to add dental services in Waikoloa right now, Taaffe said, because of the high costs associated with the specialized plumbing and equipment needed for those services.
About 15 percent of West Hawaii Community Health Center’s budget is from federal grants. Taaffe said funding helps cover the costs of treating uninsured patients, one of the center’s goals. The health center aims to provide accessible care for all patients, Taaffe said. Another area of accessibility the center tries to reach is people who speak other languages, with translators and telephone medical translation services.
The health center plans a small blessing for today at the Waikoloa Highlands Center office.