Keeping Kaua‘i’ Healthy

Dr. Brigitte Carreau checks on a young patient. DENNIS FUJIMOTO PHOTO

Kaua‘i’s largest medical facility, celebrates 80 years of serving island residents and continues its focus on enhancing trauma and emergency services.

Eight decades ago, George Norton Wilcox and Dora Isenberg envisioned a community hospital for the island of Kaua‘i, and on Nov. 1, 1938, the ever-familiar T-shaped, two-story building of Wilcox Medical Center opened its doors on Kūhiō Highway. At the time, the center featured 96 beds and accepted its first patients with a medical staff of just 17 physicians and 50 employees.

Though starting with humble beginnings, Wilcox now offers 30 specialties and programs, four birthing suites, seven intensive care beds, 20 same-day surgery beds and a 20-bed emergency department that serves as the island’s Primary Stroke Center.

In so many ways, the center has blossomed alongside the generations of Kaua‘i residents that it serves.

A physician puts a patient through cardiac rehab. DENNIS FUJIMOTO PHOTO

“As Wilcox has grown and matured over its 80 years, it has really become far more than your traditional community hospital,” says chief of staff Dr. Amy Corliss. “Wilcox is now a thriving, growing medical center with access to medical specialists and equipment and technology you might expect of a major metropolitan center. We are on the cutting edge of health care transformation.”

The institution is the largest medical center on Kaua‘i. It’s a state-of-the-art acute-care facility that in 2011, was designated as the first Level III Trauma Center on a neighbor island. And last year, Wilcox Medical Center became the first American College of Surgeons-verified Level III Trauma Center in the state.

“When Wilcox was reviewed by the American College of Surgeons for certification as a Level III Trauma Center, the reviewers commented specifically on our abundant community outreach efforts that exceeded their expectations and was well above that of much larger hospitals,” recalls general surgeon Dr. Juliette Zelada, trauma program medical director. “That speaks volumes of Wilcox’s dedication to the community.”

It is this close relationship with Kaua‘i’s people that continues to motivate and inspire physicians like Zelada.

Wilcox Medical Center provides residents with top-notch emergency and trauma care services.

“The patients are really the most rewarding part of my job,” she adds. “They are full of so much gratitude and sincerity. It’s a rare and special relationship that we have with our patients here on Kaua‘i, and not something I experienced when practicing on the mainland.”

Jen Chahanovich, president and CEO of Wilcox Medical Center and CEO of Kaua‘i Medical Clinic, echoes that sentiment.

“Earlier this year, our team quickly mobilized to get supplies and medical volunteers out to the areas of the island impacted by the floods,” she says. “It was so inspiring to see everyone come together to support our neighbors, friends, and family members who needed help. That’s what our team here at Wilcox does on a daily basis. That’s what it means to be part of this community.”

In assessing the needs of the community, Chahanovich adds that Wilcox will remain an integral part of emergency and trauma care for the island.

“Kaua‘i residents and visitors depend on us when they are in the most dire of circumstances,” she continues. “To ensure we can continue to provide the level of care we need to provide for emergency and trauma situations, we need to expand and upgrade our facilities, and invest in new technologies and equipment for our team.

Wilcox Medical Center staff pose for a photo with the first baby born in the hospital.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen an average of more than 400 trauma cases at Wilcox each year. This is an important need for the community and is currently one of our major priorities.”

Thus, in celebration of its 80th anniversary, Wilcox Medical Center is launching a campaign to raise money for trauma services, and to renovate and expand the emergency room.

“We are expanding and updating our emergency department to provide advanced services, technology and care in the quickest time possible when every second counts,” says Corliss.

A big challenge that health care providers face is delivering optimal care with limited resources, and Wilcox is not immune to this statistic.

The hospital celebrates 80 years of serving Garden Isle residents.

“Yet, I believe one of our greatest accomplishments is how far we’ve come in being able to care for most of our patients here at Wilcox without needing to transfer them to O‘ahu, specifically the extreme trauma cases and patients in intensive care,” Zelada adds. “We now have dedicated physicians, nurses and other health care professionals who are trained in trauma care and eager to take on the challenges of these critical cases.”

Being able to provide state-of-the-art, on-island trauma care to patients is just one of the challenges being met by the staff and physicians of Wilcox Medical Center.

“We know that Hawai‘i is experiencing a physician shortage, and this is something the state has been facing for some time now,” says Chahanovich. “The impact of shortages in skilled medical positions is particularly hard for rural communities, such as Kaua‘i.”

Dr. Daniel Judd examines a patient’s ankle.

To meet this challenge, Wilcox Medical Center and Kaua‘i Medical Clinic have implemented various initiatives and welcomed five new primary care physicians, who will be accepting new patients at both the Kōloa and Līhu‘e clinics.

From a vision that began in 1938, through all the decades of change, Chahanovich knows one thing has remained the same.

“Wilcox has been a part of the Kaua‘i community for 80 years,” she says. “It began because of a great community need, and we continue to ensure we are providing for the health care needs of the community to this day.

“As Kaua‘i’s largest medical center, we know we have a responsibility to make sure Kaua‘i residents have access to quality medical care right here at home.”