- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii’s largest health care companies are joining forces to provide medical services to help combat the state’s growing homeless population.

A group composed mostly of private-sector health care leaders, including Hawaii Medical Service Association and The Queen’s Medical Center, is planning to turn a four-story Honolulu building into an epicenter for homeless services.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis and a health economic crisis,” said Democratic Hawaii Sen. Josh Green, a Hawaii island emergency room physician who is heading the project. “Homeless individuals live to an average age of 51, three decades shorter than average in Hawaii, so it’s objectively a health condition.”

There were 20,323 homeless hospital visits statewide last year versus 11,619 in 2010. In 2016, state hospitals billed $214 million - or $29,862 per patient - in charges for caring for the homeless, compared with $70.5 million in 2010, according to the Hawaii Health Information Corp., a nonprofit health data company.

“I see the ambulance down here more than I see the people that live around here,” Loren Hammond, a homeless man who lives at Aala Park, said Friday while being treated by a community health nurse for multiple leg wounds. “If I feel I need them, I’ll call them. It works out for the homeless people.”

The project, known as “H4” - hygiene, health, housing and humanitarian - targets the highest users of services at Hawaii’s hospitals in hopes of diverting them to more appropriate and less expensive treatment. The group plans to raise $5 million from the private sector to open the facility in 2018, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports (https://bit.ly/2xrEg6c ).

The center will include a 24-hour urgent care center with primary and mental health services, a rapid detox and wound care center, and a place for the most critical patients to stay for up to 30 days while being treated for chronic diseases, mental illness and other serious health conditions.

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