Tropic Care, take II

LIHUE — Mark your calendar.

Tropic Care will return to the Garden Isle next summer, two years after providing free basic medical, dental and vision services to thousands of Kauai residents in a span of 10 days.

More than 250 military reservists from all over the nation will descend on Kauai for the Tropic Care 2014 beginning June 16 to offer free health care services in three fixed locations and one mobile unit.

“They want to see how they do rapid deployment in real world practice under field conditions,” Kauai District Health Office Director Dileep Bal said of the military training exercise where locals can reap the rewards. “We are the beneficiaries … here on Kauai.”

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 60 people crammed the county Civil Defense’s Emergency Operations Center to hear for the first time from the event’s top organizers. Several military personnel in the audience were joined by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Kauai Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman, Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox, Kauai Police Department Assistant Chief Ale Quibilan, Kong Radio’s Ron Wiley and other stakeholders.

In March 2012, the first Tropic Care served more than 8,000 residents, providing over 12,000 free services valued at $7 million, according to Bal.

“We’re going to get together with our community members because we need to work with what didn’t work and make it better,” said KDHO Nurse Supervisor Toni Torres, referring to kinks during the first event.

“We really want to get it right this time,” Bal said. “So I beg you, anybody who wants to help, get in touch with Toni (Torres).”

Army Col. Sue Fitzgerald, who along Capt. Rich McAroy is overseeing the military operations, said the Tropic Care 2012 laid the foundation for the military to continue to provide care in subsequent events.

“We have the benefit of having a great mission that was laid out before us,” Fitzgerald said of the 2012 event. She added KDHO did a community needs assessment on what services would be most helpful and beneficial, and based on that they staffed the providers coming to Tropic Care 2014.

“We hope that when we’re done, we can also look at this and say we were able to provide excellent care to the people of Kauai,” Fitzgerald said.

Air Force Maj. Kerya Reyes said the military does about 20 to 30 of those medical missions each year across the United States. For military reservists like her, who hold civilian jobs and only serve for a few weeks each year, those missions are a chance to put on the uniform and practice on the field.

Those missions usually pick remote, rural and underserved areas, according to Reyes.

Bal said his office sent an application for Kauai to be picked as a destination again, and that’s how the Garden Isle was accepted.

When Tropic Care served Kauai in March 2012, heavy rains and flooding caused major damages to roadways and to the island in general. Reyes said the foul weather during that event provided better training for the military than usual.

“We actually had disaster response with the flooding,” she said.

The Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Army and the Hawaii National Guard will be helping during the event, according to Fitzgerald.

“It gives us an opportunity to work with all services,” she said. “Each of us bring something different, and it allows us to work together in a way that we don’t often get to do.”

The county of Kauai is also joining the bandwagon — or the bus, to be exact.

The county will offer free bus rides in coordination with the event, county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said.

The sites for the Tropic Care 2014, which runs June 16-26, are Kapaa Middle School on the Eastside, Kauai Community College in Puhi and Eleele Elementary School on the Westside. A mobile unit may serve the North Shore, potentially at Kilauea or Hanalei schools.

Fitzgerald said if one of the sites becomes overwhelmed, they will be able to shift personnel from another site to provide better services.

And the Forbidden Island is not forgotten.

“We’re also working really hard to be able to offer care to the natives of Niihau,” Fitzgerald said.

Call KDHO at 241-3614 for more information or to offer input for Tropic Care 2014.

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