New facility will provide space for expanded cancer treatment, other services in Hilo

  • Courtesy image Rendering of the East Hawaii Health Clinic expansion.

  • Rendering of the East Hawaii Health Clinic expansion.

  • Local health care leaders and legislators gathered Thursday morning for a blessing and ground breaking of a project that will expand the Hawaii Health System Corporation’s East Hawaii Health Clinic, formerly known as the Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center. (Stephanie Salmons/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

A new effort to expand cancer treatment services is underway in Hilo.

Health care leaders and legislators gathered Thursday morning for a blessing and groundbreaking for a project that will expand the Hawaii Health System Corporation’s East Hawaii Health Clinic on Waianuenue Avenue — formerly known as the Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center.

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Located adjacent to the existing clinic and across the street from Hilo Medical Center, the new two-story, nearly 20,000-square-foot building will provide space for expanded oncology care, primary care and other specialty services. The cancer center has outgrown its existing space.

“We’ve been on a long journey to get more health care here,” Dan Brinkman, HHSC East Hawaii Regional CEO, told a small group gathered for the blessing. “Our thing is great health care close to home, and you have to have a good facility to do that. You have to have space. As with many things here, it takes a long time to get that together and get support.”

The expansion could not have happened without support from the island’s legislative delegation, he said.

“I think, hopefully, the days where we have to fly so much (for medical care) are short, and COVID has really brought that home. We would really rather have great care close to home,” Brinkman said. “So this is a big step for that.”

State Rep. Mark Nakashima said when the members of the state Legislature visited the facility more than a year ago, they saw a room crowded with patients.

He said the visit demonstrated the necessity for the expansion, as well as the need to bring additional health care services to Hilo so residents don’t have to fly off island for treatment — something he said the delegation has pushed for during the past several years.

Jerry Gray, chairman of the East Hawaii Region Board of Directors, said the center’s expansion was the board’s next priority, “because we knew our patients with cancer were being compromised in their treatment, being forced in close quarters, having to travel more than they should have to.”

The new expansion will not only provide the needed space for cancer care but also for specialists’ patients who would otherwise have to see them in Honolulu, he said.

“I think the COVID thing has brought home the importance of having access to services on the island, because anyone that’s traveled knows it’s difficult,” Gray said. “… This will just be better for our kupuna and for our keiki and all of us that make the Big Island home.”

According to assistant hospital administrator Kris Wilson, the expansion is expected to be completed by mid to late 2022.

Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated $6.5 million for the expansion in the state’s Capital Improvement Project budget.

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Hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the project’s cost is $14 million, the remainder of which will be financed.

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

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