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The Gift of Free Healthcare

Molokai residents saved more than $150,000 last week in health care costs by utilizing free medical, dental and eye care services brought to the island in a program called Tropic Care. Running from last Monday to Sunday, the services were provided by military medical personnel and coordinated through a multi-agency effort to bring the health services to Maui County.

Nearly 400 personnel were deployed to six locations around the county, with 47 staff on Molokai, according to Navy Commander Jeffery Loh. Members of all branches of the military were participating as a training exercise called Innovative Readiness Training, which doubles as an opportunity to provide their medical services to residents, he said. It’s been at least two years in planning.

“It simulates services in a deployed environment,” said Staff Sergeant Lonnie Wiram. “It’s meant to [mimic] field conditions with limited resources.”

Personnel and equipment were shipped in for the week, and Mitchell Pauole Center was transformed into a medical facility. Services included basic health screenings and physical exams; dental exams, extractions and fillings; and vision checks and eye glasses prescriptions. All services were free to all, with no identification or income requirements.

The training is paid for by the federal Department of Defense (DOD). Counties around the country apply to receive the services, and are selected by the DOD, which gives gives preference to underserved communities, said Major Andrew Lowe.

“It’s been great, you don’t know what to encounter [when you go to a new location],” he said. Personnel around around the country joint together for the effort, having never met each other before. “We gelled as a group, and we’ve enjoyed taking care of everyone here,” he added. “People have been great — they’ve brought us baked goods… showed us the island.”

Lowe said as of Saturday at noon, 110 residents had received medical services, and 279 patients were seen for eye care. For dental services, there were 248 “encounters,” which could include a followup with the same patient. Across the county, he said, residents saved more than $1.1 million in health care costs, and on Molokai, that savings was at least $150,000, based on standardized charges for the services offered.

This is the second time Tropic Care has come to Molokai — the last time was in 2013, and many said they hoped it would be back.

“I think it’s been amazing for them to be able to come and provide these,” said one of the site coordinators, Molokai resident Dawn Bicoy. “This is just a blessing for everyone to have. I can’t express my thanks for everyone that made this happen.”

Bicoy said many residents waited for hours to be seen on a first come, first served basis. Sometimes, the line went way down the sidewalk, she said.

“But you’re saving [at least] $400 if you’re getting eye glasses so it’s worth it,” Bicoy added.

Optometry patient Adelina Cera was one of those residents waiting. She said she had been told previously by a doctor that she needed eye surgery but it was too expensive so she held off. When she heard about the free eye care, she came to get an exam. She was waiting on standby Saturday morning because the appointments had already filled up, but she said it’s worth it.

“It’s good they’re serving the people free, especially for senior citizens,” she said. “I’m grateful for this.” She was able to be seen by an optometrist after waiting a few hours.

Bicoy said Molokai community members had many ways of showing their gratitude.

“I’ve had many people [military personnel] say this is the friendliest community they’ve served so I’m proud of that,” she said. “In our own ways a a community, we’ve tried to give back, to at least say thank you.”

Molokai veterans hosted the visiting group for a dinner, many residents brought baked goods or offered to show personnel around the island, and many other gestures.

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