Mahelona, KVMH hospitals could move under Department of Health umbrella

Hawai’i’s 12 rural state hospitals – including Mahelona Hospital and Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital- would be returned to the control of the state Department of Health under a bill now before the state House of Representatives.

The House was to vote on the measure Tuesday.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Nakasone (D, Waikapu-Wailuku-Kahului), noted some House members favored the legislation because they felt some health facilities with the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. have not “benefited from the flexibility and autonomy” granted to the corporation in 1996.

The HHSC, with approval by the Legislature and backed with funding, took over the hospitals partly because they were not running efficiently and or cost-effectively under the state Department of Health at the time.

But five management advisory committees with HHSC opposing the bill say the corporation is doing a fine job.

The committees, representing Kaua’i, O’ahu, the Big Island and Maui, serve as conduits between HHSC and residents and send community recommendations back to HHSC to improve medical services.

“It is not a good idea to put it back with DOH. When I was with an advisory committee when the hospitals were with DOH, there were problems,” said Jean Odo, executive chairwoman of the committees and chairwoman of the Kaua’i advisory committee.

Some of the long-standing problems dealt with accounting, billing and employees evaluations, she said.

“HHSC has been good for the hospitals, because they provide a coordinated system,” Odo said.

Odo said the chairpersons of the HHSC advisory committees expressed that sentiment in a meeting with HHSC president Thomas Driskill Jr. last week.

The bill is at a very preliminary stage, according to the staff of House Rep. Bertha Kawakami, vice chairperson of the House Finance Committee, which is considering the bill.

Dr. Jane Kadohiro, deputy director of the DOH, said the state hospitals

“are needed terribly. They are absolutely critical to the well-being of the people throughout the state, especially those on the neighbor islands.”

DOH is opposed to having the system put back in its lap, Kadohiro said. “If they (the state hospitals) are within the DOH, the amount of time it takes to be able to be responsive to their needs in a timely manner is very difficult,” she said.

The role of the DOH is to be the medical provider “of last resort, when there is nothing available to people,” Kadohiro said. Until that situation arises, private or near-private services provided by HHSC are beneficial, she said.

The HHSC corporation has asked for $39 million in state funds in the next fiscal year and $43 million in the following year. Nearly half of those amounts for each year would cover retirement benefits, HHSC representatives said.

HHSC is currently requesting an emergency appropriation of $14 million, in addition to its $26 million budget, to repay the state’s employees retirement system for several thousand employees at the 12 hospitals, HHSC representatives said.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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