Hilo Clinic in Crisis

Aloha!  (New update added below, 12/19/18)

Do you know Dr. Michelle Mitchell? Are you familiar with her clinic, Hawaii Family Health, located on Ululani St. near the Hilo Public Library? With a staff of 15, Dr. Mitchell is the sole physician in a clinic that serves upwards of 2500 Hilo and lower Puna patients.

Unfortunately, without immediate and significant assistance, this clinic may be closing in the very near future, and along with it, all hope of completing the new Hawaii Family Health clinic still under construction on Ponahawai St. Of more concern to Dr. Mitchell should she lose her clinic is what is to become of her patients, many of whom are medically fragile. Where will they go to find care?

Hawaii is in the midst of a severe medical provider shortage (especially on the Big Island) with more and more physicians retiring or leaving every month simply because they cannot make a living here. As a result, an ever-growing population becomes increasingly desperate for quality medical care.

Why is this happening? In a nutshell, woefully inadequate insurance company compensation to physicians and clinics is the root of the problem.

Do you know what your monthly insurance premium is? Not just what you yourself pay out of pocket, but the total of what you, your employer and/or the state of Hawaii pays to your insurer? According to the National Council on State Legislatures, “In 2018 the average annual premium for single coverage rose 3 percent to $6,896.” Some quick math tells us that averages out to $575 per month for an individual.

And what has the physician/clinic received from your insurance company when you’ve gone to see your doctor? Under a recent insurance plan (2017), it was only $24 per patient per month. Yes, you read that right–$24 out of a $575 monthly premium to pay staff, rent, supplies, insurance, malpractice, medical student loans and much more! More recently, the present fee for service plan offered by all insurance providers has had almost no increase in the last five years, failing even to keep pace with inflation.

Dr. Mitchell’s clinic, Hawaii Family Health, is in crisis mode. They have been forced to cut back hours and cut staff. Unbelievable though it may sound, Dr. Mitchell herself has not been paid at all this year, drawing a $1000 monthly stipend from a personal loan against her now-depleted 401K. In other words, she has been a full-time volunteer all year long, and is now in danger of losing her home in Hilo in addition to her clinic.

Still, she goes to her clinic 6 days a week continuing to provide high-quality care for her patients, and has made certain that her staff have been fully compensated throughout. Even though the reserves are now exhausted, Dr. Mitchell continues to accept new patients and operates the clinic with the optimistic belief in her vision of providing East Hawaiians with a beautiful new clinic and the quality family health care they so deserve.

Efforts are being made to encourage insurers to revisit their physician compensation model. Letters have been submitted to State of Hawaii legislators decrying the problem. Personal presentations have been delivered to medical industry executives highlighting the issue and the need for immediate action. While these efforts aimed at insurance compensation reform are ongoing and will continue, kama’aina know that change in Hawaii is always resisted, and progress–if it comes at all–comes painfully slow.

Many people taking the time to read this urgent request will know of a friend, co-worker or family member who is a patient of Dr. Mitchell, or know of others in similar situations. The need for your assistance is critical and immediate. PLEASE give generously! The health, well-being and longevity of our ohana, friends and neighbors depends on it.

Help us save this clinic. No donation is too small–or too large. 100% of donations will be used to sustain Hawaii Family Health Clinic.

Other ways you can help:

Write to the state legislature (https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=all) for insurance reform.

Write to your own insurance company (address on the back of your insurance card) calling for fair wages.  

And PLEASE share this post after you've made your donation.

Mahalo nui loa~

Art Blackburn for Dr. Michelle Mitchell

UPDATE 12/19/18
In the interest of full transparency, The GoFundMe team has requested that I add the following information to my story.   
My name is Art Blackburn, and my home is in Hawaiian Paradise Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Dr. Mitchell and I met a year ago, and we are now in a committed relationship.   All contributions are transferred from the GoFundMe site to a dedicated account in Dr Mitchell's name, to which I do not have access.  All proceeds from this campaign will be used to help pay for the day-to-day costs of keeping Hawaii Family Health clinic's door open, enabling Dr. Mitchell to continue to serve the needs of our community.


Arthur Blackburn
Hilo, HI

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