First wave of cuts hits state-owned hospitals in East Hawaii

Hilo Medical Center

Hospital workers on the Big Island are losing their jobs, and it’s the first wave of cuts that could hit almost every island.

State-owned hospitals in East Hawaii will lay off 87 employees, approximately seven percent of the total workforce, and cut back services in response to a projected $7 million shortfall.

The changes will affect Hilo Medical Center, Kau Hospital and Hale Hoola Hamakua.

The hospitals comprise the East Hawaii Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, the state-funded hospital system which is facing a $50 million shortfall overall for fiscal 2016.

The cuts will leave a gaping hole in medical services, especially in the area of psychiatric care.

HHSC says the planned closures include “Home Care Services, which provides homebound individuals both chronic and transitional nursing care, and one wing of adult inpatient psychiatric care at Hilo Medical Center.”

That means beginning July 1, 87 workers will be laid off and services in home care and adult inpatient psychiatric care will be cut. Some long-term care beds will also be eliminated.

HHSC said the shortfall is the result of higher costs and lower reimbursement rates incurred while servicing their fast-growing population. The hospitals are the safety net for many in the community who are uninsured and have no other healthcare options.

Approximately 75 percent of the region’s reimbursements come from Medicare and Medicaid/Quest. HHSC says those reimbursements do not cover the cost of care.

Last June, Hilo Medical Center also cut jobs to prevent reductions to full-time staff.

“These are real relevant cuts to the people of Big Island, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t give them an opportunity to either partner or find adequate resources, we could see deeper and deeper cuts in the coming years,” said Sen. Josh Green, D, Kona, Kau.

“Right now we are not actively pursuing leasing or a privatization solution like Maui,” said interim East Hawaii Regional CEO Dan Brinkman.

The Big Island facilities fall under the state-funded hospital system, Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. Corporate CEO Linda Rosen said this is the first regional cut to be announced. Maui, Kauai and Oahu will also announce cuts next week.

“What do you want to say to the current patients out where medical care is lacking?” KHON2 asked.

“Well I want them to know we’re going to do our best to preserve those services that they depend on in our health facilities,” Rosen said.

But Marya Grambs of Mental Health America of Hawaii believes psychiatric patients greatly depend on the area’s hospitals, and reducing those services could put those patients on the street.

“So now you cut half the beds and the only other beds are going to be in Kona side which is not close, not a lot of beds, or people are going to be flown to Oahu? Not enough beds here either,” Grambs said.

In the last legislative session, HB1075 was passed to allow HHSC’s Maui regional system to partner with a private entity. Hawaii Pacific Health and Kaiser have both expressed interest. At the time of this post, the bill has been transmitted to the governor.

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