Homeless people on Oahu who need to be tested for COVID-19, isolated while awaiting test results or quarantined with the illness, will have access to a new medical triage facility in Iwilei starting Wednesday.

The city-owned building at 524 Kaaahi Street was meant to be the new location of the Sand Island Treatment Center, but officials adjusted plans when the pandemic hit. Hawaii had 120 confirmed cases as of Friday.

The triage center could help prevent an influx of homeless patients in intensive care units at hospitals, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

A medical triage facility in Iwilei for homeless patients will help “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2020

“We are stepping up efforts to give homeless individuals the care and services they need to stay healthy, safely socially distance themselves, and receive medical attention if they do contract COVID-19, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus in our community,” he said. “We want to flatten that curve.”

Oahu’s homeless population, estimated to be over 4,400 people, is at greater risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. Many are elderly and have health problems and limited access to hygiene facilities, made more difficult recently when Mayor Kirk Caldwell ordered the closure of park bathrooms.

The mayor said all city bathrooms would be reopened by the end of the day Friday, days later than a pledge earlier this week.

Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui, a nonprofit also known as H4, will conduct mobile testing of symptomatic members of the homeless population – in encampments and in shelters – and run the medical triage center. The mobile testing program is estimated to provide 200 screenings and tests per day.

The triage facility has space for screening, testing and quarantining of homeless people during the pandemic. Courtesy: City and County of Honolulu

The building has capacity for up to 26 patients, allowing it to serve up to 600 homeless participants during a 120-day grant period, according to the city.

The facility will also provide urgent care services 24/7 to individuals who walk in, regardless of their insurance status, the city said.

This will replace medical services that have been available at the Chinatown Joint Outreach Center, also run by H4. The center will continue to offer social services but not medical care, according to Scott Miscovich, one of the founders of H4.

The effort is supported by the city, which owns the building and will cover utility costs. The Hawaii Department of Health will assist with startup costs and hire displaced Local 5 union workers to provide food service, security, housekeeping and maintenance services, the city said. The union will also volunteer to provide meal preparation and facilities maintenance. The nonprofit Institute for Human Services will offer social services case management for patients.

The MacNaughton Group Foundation, the Hawaii Community Foundation and Nareit Hawaii are also assisting.

“As we find solutions to overcome the threat of COVID-19, it’s these types of local, collaborative efforts that will make a difference in our community,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author