Tropic Care 2018 offering free health care services through the end of the month

Although the school year has ended, Keaau High School will be bustling with activity throughout the end of June as state and county agencies offer free medical care to residents.

Tropic Care 2018 is a nine-day event wherein residents will have access to free health care services ranging from health screenings, physicals, dental exams, tooth extractions, eye exams, hearing screenings, nutritional services and more.

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The event, a collaboration between the state Department of Health, Hawaii County, the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the U.S. Army Reserves, began Monday. Col. Melody Quesenberry, officer in charge of Tropic Care, said the first day of the event saw nearly double the attendance of the event’s first day in 2016, the last time it was hosted, although she could not provide specific numbers.

Quesenberry said 66 personnel of the 1984th U.S. Army Hospital Pacific will be at Keaau High School administering health care to any residents who register.

The event’s dental and optical services are the most popular options by far, Quesenberry said. By 11 a.m. Tuesday, no additional dental patients could be accepted for the rest of the day because of the high volume of registrants. Optical services include not only eye exams but glasses fabrication, allowing patients to order and receive prescription eyeglasses for free within about four days.

Meanwhile, approximately 40 county and state agencies will be available for attendees to connect with additional services.

“It’s a great opportunity to try and link people with what services they need,” said Tracey Wise, public health educator for the state Department of Health.

Wise said services available in different repurposed classrooms throughout the school ranged from acupuncture to homeless services, the Big Island Substance Abuse Council to the Big Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, Disabled American Veterans and more. A legal clinic also will be available Saturday, which Wise said would be “huge.”

Momi Kawai of the Big Island Kokua Services Partnership said she helps attendees navigate complicated insurance questions.

“So many people say, ‘Well, I’m not going to qualify,’ but then they come here and I tell them, ‘No, you can,’” Kawai said.

Meanwhile, Cyd Hoffeld, health promotions manager for Bay Clinic Inc., provided information about the Bay Clinic’s services at its locations around the island, including family planning, uninsured care, tobacco cessation and more.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to get free service and get connected with other agencies,” Hoffeld said.

In addition, Hoffeld said a Bay Clinic mobile medical unit will visit Pahoa to offer basic medical and dental services to residents. The mobile unit also will visit Volcano on June 28.

Despite the timing of the event, Tropic Care 2018 is completely unrelated to the ongoing Disaster Recovery Center set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the school, where those impacted by the Kilauea eruption and lava flow in lower Puna can meet with a similarly wide range of local, state and federal agencies.

Quesenberry said Tropic Care 2018 was prearranged to take place in June, but the crisis caused by the eruption is likely causing a boost in attendance.

“It’s perfect timing, really,” said Skip McClane, a former resident of Leilani Estates who was forced to flee after lava covered much of the subdivision. McClane is currently staying at a friend’s residence in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

McClane, who attended the event to have a painful cracked tooth treated, said he knew he would have to arrange a dental exam sooner or later before hearing about Tropic Care on the radio. While treating his tooth was his top priority Tuesday, he said he would also check other agencies afterward to see what additional services are available.

Quesenberry said the Army is not collecting information about the addresses of patients and therefore cannot provide information about how many lava evacuees are in attendance. While the Army does record information about patients’ insurance, such information is only gathered for statistical purposes and is not attached to any names.

Wise estimated that nearly 50 percent of visitors on Monday had been affected by the lava to some extent, but whether they lost homes or had not been forced to evacuate but still suffered other ill effects was unclear.

“If they come here, we’ll treat them,” Quesenberry said.

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Tropic Care 2018 will continues from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today. While the event will not take place Thursday, it returns Friday and Saturday and next week Monday through Thursday. Attendees are advised to bring current glasses and medication as well as supplies for potentially long waits. Free food is available for children.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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