Hilo cancer-treatment facility expansion sought

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Hilo Medical Center is looking to expand its Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center and construct a rural and telehealth center, and has submitted a draft environmental assessment for the project to the state Department of Health Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Hilo Medical Center is hoping to expand its Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center and construct a rural and telehealth center in an effort to offer more care closer to home.

The expansion would happen on a graded and unpaved half-acre lot next to the existing Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center, located across from hospital on Waianuenue Avenue, according to a draft environmental assessment for the project published on Feb. 8.

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The first floor of the 17,295 square-foot building would be used by the oncology center, which is at maximum capacity, and will include a pharmacy, “medication oncology infusion room,” and accessory rooms and facilities.

Julie Leach, nurse manager with Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center, said the practice has outgrown its current facility.

Hilo Medical Center explored the possibility of remodeling the existing location to see if future needs could be met, but the government has new facility guidelines that must be followed, Leach said.

HPOC can’t renovate the current facility to meet both the guidelines and community needs, she said.

Leach said East Hawaii has a large population of individuals 65 and older, which is “generally the population that has more cancer diagnoses.”

Additionally, advancements in treatment often mean that patients, for example, who might have had an average lifespan of one year with some advanced cancers, live longer, meaning that patients will need “some kind of cancer care and followups” for a longer part of their life, she said.

Meanwhile, the second floor will house the Hilo Rural Health and Telehealth Center, which will offer primary care, multiple specialties, urgent care and telemedicine so patients can get access to off-island specialties not available on the Big Island.

Hilo Medical Center has been using telehealth services for stroke, psychiatry, nephrology, endocrinology and oncology care, but HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said hospital officials think the telehealth center “will take it to the next level.”

Kris Wilson, chief information officer and head of special projects, said HMC has dedicated itself to improving technology in its facilities, which will help fill gaps in health care found in the community.

The “gap” refers to medical services that could be needed but are unavailable, and Wilson said telehealth is one of the most effective ways to deliver that care.

Telehealth is cost-effective for patients on the neighbor islands who won’t have to fly to Oahu for care so they can “still receive specialist care within their hometown.”

Ultimately, the project will “enhance and improve medical and cancer treatment for the East Hawaii community,” the filing states.

According to Cabatu, HMC received $2 million from the state Legislature, with the help of state Rep. Mark Nakashima, a few years ago for the telehealth center, and is asking for $7 million in capital improvement funds for the new building during the current legislative session.

Wilson said estimates for the building are $12 million to $14 million.

She’d like to see the new building completed in 2022.

“A groundbreaking at the end of 2020 would warm a lot of hearts,” Leach said.

A 30-day public review and comment period is under way. Comments on the draft EA are due by March 9.

The EA and information on how to submit comment can be found online at bit.ly/EnvironmentalNotice.

According to the EA, “No sensitive biological, hydrological, archaeological, cultural or other resources are present,” a summary states. “In the highly unlikely event archaeological resources are encountered during land-altering activities associated with construction, work in the immediate area of the discovery will be halted and the State Historic Preservation Division will be contacted.”

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Wilson said hospital administration has no major concerns regarding findings in the assessment.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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