Janet Liang, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii president, pours water on to a puolo at the groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s new Kona clinic Monday. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Janet Liang, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii president, and Kahu Kealoha Sugiyama stand during the Kaiser groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning on the site, located at the corner of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Honokohau Street. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Uncle Donna Kualii lays down a laau, left, as others await their turn during the Kaiser Permanente ground breaking ceremony Monday morning at the site, on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, mauka of Honokohau Harbor. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Kahu Kealoha Sugiyama looks on as Geoffrey Sewell, President, Executive Medical Director, Kaiser Permanente Medical Group participates in the groundbreaking ceremony. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Space for doctors and patients of Kaiser Permanente’s North Kona clinic will nearly triple in 2014, when the group practice is slated to open its new office space, mauka of Honokohau Small Boat Harbor.
Kaiser Permanente Hawaii kicked off the construction process Monday with a ground breaking and blessing ceremony at the site, just above Queen Kaahumanu Highway and north of Honokohau Street.
Associate Medical Director for Neighbor Islands Dr. Daryl Kurozawa recounted the medical care situation he saw while growing up in Kona.
“When I was younger, we only had three doctors,” Kurozawa said, adding those physicians were good, but they were the only doctors available.
A big change for West Hawaii residents came in 1987, when Kaiser opened its first clinic on the Big Island, in Kona, he said. The clinic has grown, now encompassing three floors of office space off Hualalai Road. But the growth there is limited, and parking is almost always a problem, he said. For a decade, Kaiser’s officials have been looking for a site to expand the clinic. Officials selected the 9.9-acre site at Honokohau about four years ago, and have been working on the site plans ever since.
The new clinic will be about 40,000 square feet, officials said. That’s more than Kaiser’s footprint on the entire island right now, Hawaii Permanente Medical Group President and Executive Medical Director Geoffrey Sewell said. The existing Kona clinic is about 14,000 square feet, the Hilo clinic is about 5,000 square feet, the Waimea office space is about 3,000 square feet and the South Kona office is a couple of thousand square feet, he said. Kaiser has about 22,000 members on Hawaii Island, he added.
“We believe there’s unmet medical care needs here on the island,” Kaiser Permanent Hawaii President Janet Liang said. “We believe we’ll be able to provide more access to take care of more people.”
The West Hawaii clinic in particular is serving about the maximum number of patients it can now, given the space restraints, officials said.
Once the new clinic is in place, Sewell said one new goal is to recruit specialists to work and live on the Big Island. That’s a change from Kaiser’s current practice of bringing specialists to Oahu, then flying them to the neighbor islands, he said.
Kurozawa said Kaiser is in the process of recruiting a dermatologist to be Kona-based.
West Hawaii’s future growth makes the Kona site a good location for Kaiser’s future expansion, Liang said, noting the soon-to-be realigned and upgraded Saddle Road will cut down on transportation time for East Hawaii residents seeking medical care here. Driving to Kona — or possibly riding in Kaiser-provided transportation, which is something the company is also considering — is still faster and easier than taking a day to travel to Oahu for some treatments, she said.
Kaiser is spending about $50 million on the project, which includes purchasing the land and construction. Maryl Group is the contractor for the project; CEO Mark Richards said he expected work to begin as soon he obtained permits. He hoped that would be by the end of October or early November. He said about 100 people would work on the project.
Kahu Kealoha Sugiyama opened the ceremony with a blessing that included planting puolo on the property.
“These are gifts,” he said. “Because the center leaf is point up, it acknowledges the gift of aloha from the creator.”
Sugiyama chose items of medical significance, including the kukui nut and aloe, to tie in the future use of the land.
“This project took a lot of time,” he said. “Now that it is here at hand, we want to make sure it is filled with the spirit of aloha.”