Emergency cash gets closer for Kauai hospitals

LIHUE — Emergency funding for Kauai’s public hospitals appears to be on its way.

The Hawaii State Senate Tuesday passed House Bill 3 that will provide $7.3 million in emergency funds to the Kauai Regional Health Care System of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

The emergency funding, which is only awaiting the governor’s signature before being approved, will ensure that Kauai’s two critical access hospitals and several clinics will remain operational through the spring of 2014.

“This measure is necessary to safeguard Kauai’s residents and visitors access to essential health care services,” said Senate Vice President Ronald D. Kouchi, Kauai and Niihau, in a press release. “I strongly appreciate the Ways and Means Committee chair, Sen. David Ige, and the Health Committee chair, Senator Josh Green, M.D., for recognizing the critical need for this emergency appropriation.”

The affected facilities are West Kauai Medical Center, Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, Kauai’s only inpatient psychiatric unit, and three physician clinics, the release stated.

The approved amount is nearly triple the $2.5 million total that Hawaii Health Systems officials were planning to ask legislators before the special session began last week.

HHSC leaders, citing financial hardships, said they would struggle to make payroll without the cash infusion.

“At this time, we’re very appreciative of the time and consideration that Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Legislature gave us throughout this whole process,” HHSC Vice President and Public Affairs Director Miles Takaaze said on Tuesday.

But even with the extra money, HHSC officials have said there is work to be done throughout the public health care system when it comes to finances.

“With very little cash on hand, HHSC is facing some difficult decisions relating to the provision of services or restructuring for a more cost effective organization,” HHSC Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Alice Hall testified to law makers last week.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, cast the lone dissenting vote against the measure in the Senate.

Slom said he and other legislators are concerned about where the millions of dollars in emergency allocations from the Legislature have been going over the years.

“I’ve been in the Senate for 18 years, and for nearly 20 years, the HHSC has mismanaged its funds, its leaders overspent and everything is an emergency,” Slom said on Tuesday. “They have not cut expenditures, they have not made agreements with the unions for change and have not made reforms, so my point is, why do we keep pouring money into this situation? I’m all for helping the hospitals, certainly health care is a priority, but so is education, transportation and apparently same-sex marriage.”

The measure will be sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for approval.

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