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A PIC+URE Of Good Health

Military reserve from all branches, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, pose for a photo during 2014’s Innovative Readiness Training Tropic Care event.

Suffering from a toothache that needs tending to or a sore hip that just isn’t healing? Stop by Tropic Care Kaua‘i 2017 and receive no-cost care for your ailments now through June 21 at several locations around the island. Health care industry professionals from all seven branches of the military reserve, including doctors, nurses, dentists and optometrists, will be available to help you feel better.

This is Tropic Care’s fourth return to the island, thanks to those committed to the project, such as Toni Torres, RN and Kaua‘i Public Health Nursing supervisor for the state Department of Health, Kaua‘i District Health Office.

“We get excited that people are benefitting from this,” she says.

Toni Torres, RN and Kaua‘i Public Health Nursing supervisor for the state Department of Health, Kaua‘i District Health Office, is proud of the success that Tropic Care has become.

Last year, almost 10 percent of the island’s population took advantage of the no-cost medical services provided by Tropic Care, and more than 12,000 procedures, such as physical exams, tooth extractions and eye exams, were completed.

What’s more, some 2,800 glasses were distributed, which happens to be one of the best parts about the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, according to Torres. That’s because watching someone put on eyeglasses for the first time after not being able to see clearly for so long brings her joy. She recalls a young man who visited one year, hunched over and obviously in need of care, only to stand up straight by the time he left with a newfound confidence after putting on a pair of eyeglasses.

“It was cool to see,” she says. The best part is that everyone can benefit from these services no matter what their financial circumstances.

“You can drive up in your Mercedes, we won’t turn you away,” says Torres.

But she does strongly encourage those who are struggling financially to take advantage of the opportunity.

A patient receives dental care during a past Tropic Care event on Kaua‘i.

“It’s very important,” she says regarding staying healthy.

A few other services offered this year include physical therapy, where patients are assessed and offered suggestions for minimizing pain, as well as dental cleanings — something not always provided with standard health insurance packages. And because of a new law requiring all students entering the seventh grade to complete a physical exam, these also will be available.

Appointments happen on a first-come, first-served basis, and Torres recommends not putting off a visit until the last day. She also reminds everyone that it’s the same kind of care they’d receive anywhere else. The only difference is that it’s administered at no cost to the patient. And, more importantly, with potential upcoming changes in health care and the uncertainly of when Tropic Care will return, it’s imperative that people have their medical needs addressed while they can.

The project was initiated in 2010 when Dr. Dileep Bal, formerly of the DOH, saw a need for no-cost medical care services on Kaua‘i. This was especially vital at the time, prior to the Affordable Care Act taking effect. The inaugural year of Tropic Care in 2012 was successful, but didn’t come without its challenges. There were torrential rains, and people were hesitant to show up because they weren’t confident about the type of care they’d receive. But subsequent years were a roaring success after the event was rescheduled to occur during drier seasons, and reassuring people that the hundreds of individuals who fly in are, indeed, professionals in the health care industry. These professionals just happen to be part of the reserves and, therefore, must complete annual training in rural locations like Kaua‘i in order to be prepared for rapid deployment should the need arise.

Toni Torres with health care professionals from all branches of the military reserve during a past Tropic Care event, where medical services are provided to kama‘aina at no cost.

Thousands of residents have since benefitted from Tropic Care. This fact delights Torres, who is originally from Moloka‘i and married to Mariano, a doctor at Kaua‘i Community Health Center. Though she’s been instrumental in bringing medical services to Kaua‘i, she is thankful to the groups and individuals who also make it possible, like Hawaii Medical Service Association, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, Wilcox Health, the Smith ‘ohana of Smith Tropical Paradise and Jared Murayama.

“If it wasn’t for those people, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” she says. “It comes from the community.”

Tropic Care Kaua‘i 2017 clinic sites will be ‘Ele‘ele Elementary School, Kaua‘i Community College and Kapa‘a Middle School, and mobile sites will be Kīlauea Elementary School (June 12-15) and Waimea Easter Seals (June 17-21). Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Sunday (June 18) and June 21, when clinics will close at 1 p.m. The County of Kaua‘i will offer free islandwide bus service each day of the event.

“We are pleased to partner once again with the Kaua‘i District Health Office and the Department of Defense Reserve Affairs on Tropic Care. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the public to obtain health care services at no cost to them,” says Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. “I encourage residents and visitors to take advantage of this offer, and hopefully they will see the benefits of public transportation and help us move towards becoming a more sustainable community.”

Call the Kaua‘i District Health Office at 241-3555 or email tckauai2017@gmail.com for more information.

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