Wilcox Health needs a checkup

Thirty-two people who are employed by or who serve on boards of Wilcox Health signed their names to a full-page advertisement that ran recently in The Garden Island newspaper. The ad, headlined “An Open Letter to the Citizens of Kauai,” alleges that Senate Concurrent Resolution 170 (SCR170) “calls for the State to consider revoking Wilcox Health’s license to operate.” It further accuses the Legislature of “jeopardizing your access to care and opening the door for the State of Hawai‘i to take over your hospital and clinic.” Such assertions can only be described as patently misleading, excessively inflammatory and an irresponsible overreaction to the proposed resolution. I suspect most people who signed the ad did so at the request of Hawaii Pacific Health management and had not actually read the proposed resolution.

As the author of SCR170 I’m well aware of the content, purpose and intent of this measure. It is to determine the status of current operations at Wilcox in regards to the requirements specified in the 2001 Certificate of Need, which approved the merger of Straub, Kapiolani and Wilcox as Hawaii Pacific Health. Nowhere in this resolution is there a suggestion that the state should revoke Wilcox’s license to operate, nor is there any intent or any reference whatsoever, as the ad alleges, to take over Wilcox Health on Kaua‘i.

In written testimony provided to the Senate Health Committee on April 5, HPH declared the resolution “unnecessary as both SHPDA (the state Health Planning and Development Agency) and the state Attorney General’s office have already conducted an investigation and have told us that there is no basis to revoke the Certificate of Need.” A SHPDA representative contradicted the HPH statement at the same hearing, and has stated that while they do not believe the CON should be revoked, they have not completed their review, they have not issued any final report and concerns still remain unresolved.

SCR170 was a response to questions by many well-informed island residents who worry about staff morale, significant loss of physicians, and persistent questions regarding the financial status at post-merger Wilcox. A group that has detailed several community concerns is the Citizens for Kauai’s Health Care Future. It includes Dr. Peter Kim, the last living founder of the Kauai Medical Group, and numerous other credible and concerned community leaders who have long been associated with and committed to the support of quality health care on Kaua‘i.

They remember the acrimonious, 126-day nurses’ strike last year that centered on a basic hospital care issue: a smaller, safer, nurse-to-patient ratio at the hospital.

They have felt the upheaval resulting from the 27 physicians who’ve left Kauai Medical Clinic since the merger, including four family practitioners, nine internists and two pediatricians, as well as three midwives and a nurse anesthetist.

They are troubled that HPH abolished the Physicians Advisory Group, which some believe was eliminated after it questioned HPH’s centralized management decisions.

They are particularly disturbed by reports that Wilcox has reduced its commitment and its care to the disadvantaged, underinsured and uninsured.

To sort out the facts from the fallacies, an impartial review of the facts should be conducted in a responsible manner. It is possible that such an investigation will determine that there are no problems in health-care delivery and administration at Wilcox/HPH. It is also possible that the investigation may find that the CON has been violated. If that’s the case, then action should be taken to rectify and correct the situation.

I urge everyone who has jumped in with opinions about SCR170 — and all those who are concerned about the future of health care on Kaua‘i — to read the resolution carefully. It is published in its entirety at: www.capitol.hawaii.gov/sessioncurrent/Bills/SCR170_SD1_.htm.

Wilcox Memorial Hospital has been a respected institution on Kaua‘i since 1938. Its influence on our lives is considerable. Whether it happens via SCR170 or through some other means, an in-depth, open, honest community dialogue that examines these issues must occur soon.

I, along with Kaua‘i’s entire legislative delegation, am willing to support such an effort. We look forward to working with all parties to establish a process that will provide both answers to the questions and solutions to the challenges.

• Gary Hooser is Senate Majority Leader, representing the 7th Senatorial District, covering Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. He is a resident of Wailua and writes a biweekly column exclusive to The Garden Island.


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