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Mobile unit brings counseling, medical care to homeless

Project aims to improve access to services, cut down on 911 calls

Lt. Joy Medeiros (left) and Sgt. Jan Pontanilla stand by the new Mobile Medical Educational Unit that will be used to help provide outreach to homeless people. MAUI POLICE DEPARTMENT photos

WAILUKU — Homeless residents will be able to seek mental health counseling, noncritical medical care and other services in one location when the Maui Police Department launches its Mobile Medical Educational Unit.

“It’s something that was needed,” said Sgt. Jan Pontanilla, who heads the MPD Critical Outreach and Response through Education, or CORE program, that will work with other groups at the unit.

The services will be offered in a 2007 El Dorado 40-foot bus, donated by the county Department of Transportation, that will be stationed for a month at a time in Kahului, Kihei or Lahaina.

In Kahului and Lahaina, the wheelchair-accessible bus will be at the Salvation Army. In Kihei, it will be at St. Theresa Church. The locations were selected because other services for homeless people are offered there.

“We’re capitalizing on what they have,” Pontanilla said.

A 2007 El Dorado 40-foot, wheelchair-accessible bus will serve as a Mobile Medical Educational Unit stationed for a month at a time in Kahului, Kihei and Lahaina.

Initially, some CARES Act funding is being used for the project.

Pontanilla said the department is hoping to have the program rolling next month to make it easier for people to get services they might otherwise go without.

Another goal is to reduce the number of calls fielded by police, firefighters and medics that involve making welfare checks on or moving along homeless people, Pontanilla said.

“They may not be comfortable with walking into the emergency room on their own,” she said. “Most of the time when police get involved with these individuals, they’re almost near death. Their wounds are so bad they may be in septic shock. To have something like this can prevent that.

“We’re also building rapport with them. We’re all human.”

The bus interior includes a triage area, a mental health area staffed by a social worker and a multipurpose room that may be used for COVID-19 vaccinations or other health services.

A medic with Paradise Medical Services is volunteering to provide wound care, which will be done outside the bus, Pontanilla said. In addition to providing bandages, the medic will educate people about how to keep wounds clean, for example, by using a sock.

The inside of the bus is divided into three sections — a triage area, a mental health area staffed by a social worker and a multipurpose room that can be used for COVID-19 vaccinations or other health services.

In addition to the bus, the Department of Transportation donated Wi-Fi services so the social worker can help people set up telehealth appointments with a psychologist, Pontanilla said.

She said the approach could help people stay on their medication and prevent manic or depressive episodes.

“We want to see if we can help and be proactive,” she said.

Pontanilla anticipates that hundreds of people a month will use the services, including the 50 to 100 people a month that she and Lt. Joy Medeiros have built a rapport with through CORE in Central Maui.

“We’re hoping it will be a good response,” Pontanilla said.

Michael Du Pont, deputy director of the county Department of Transportation, will be the bus driver.

“Even his bus drivers run into these individuals,” Pontanilla said. “Everybody is trying to collaborate and make it work. We’ll work with anyone who wants to be part of it.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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