Kaiser encouraging job applicants as July hospitals transition nears

Maui Memorial Medical Center will be privatized and taken over by Kaiser Permanente on July 1. More than 93 percent of the 1,500 state employees at Maui Memorial, Kula and Lanai Community hospitals have accepted jobs with Kaiser, a private, not-for-profit health care organization. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Memorial Medical Center will be privatized and taken over by Kaiser Permanente on July 1. More than 93 percent of the 1,500 state employees at Maui Memorial, Kula and Lanai Community hospitals have accepted jobs with Kaiser, a private, not-for-profit health care organization. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Plenty of jobs need to be filled at Maui County’s three public hospitals, and Kaiser Permanente officials are encouraging residents not to wait until the state facilities become private July 1.

“We don’t want the transition to be the reason people would hold back on applying,” said Jean Melnikoff, vice president of human resources for Kaiser Permanente. “If you have friends or neighbors or family interested and want to come work but they’re waiting, tell them do not wait.

“In fact, there’s an advantage to them not waiting, because as they become our employees, we’re giving them credit for service time they had” with the Maui Region of Hawaii Health System Corp., she added.

With less than three months remaining before the state transfers operations of Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kula and Lanai Community hospitals to Kaiser, the private health care provider is taking final steps toward the long-awaited transition, including recruiting workers.

Just over 93 percent of the 1,500 state employees at the three hospitals have accepted jobs with Kaiser, Melnikoff said. But, over the past year, hospital officials have reported staffing shortages and overworked employees as the transition stalled due to union and contract disputes.

Maui Memorial Medical Center charge registered nurse Penny Pacubus (left) and staffing clerk Marliz DeLeon meet Friday afternoon to see who they can call in to work to cover nurses who have called in sick. They said that the meeting was a “regular task” that is done before the beginning of each of the day’s three shifts. Kaiser Permanente officials are encouraging island residents to apply for jobs at Maui Memorial, Kula and Lanai Community hospitals. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Memorial Medical Center charge registered nurse Penny Pacubus (left) and staffing clerk Marliz DeLeon meet Friday afternoon to see who they can call in to work to cover nurses who have called in sick. They said that the meeting was a “regular task” that is done before the beginning of each of the day’s three shifts. Kaiser Permanente officials are encouraging island residents to apply for jobs at Maui Memorial, Kula and Lanai Community hospitals. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Melnikoff said that the areas of greatest need include registered nurses, nurses’ aides, lab and diagnostic imaging, physical and occupational therapy and “even some gaps in clerical positions.”

“Virtually any position that they see the state has open on posting boards today, we would encourage them to apply for,” Melnikoff said.

For Kaiser, it’s not so much about filling a specific number, but drumming up interest and making connections with local candidate pools, such as the University of Hawaii.

“The number of positions is not as critical,” Melnikoff said. “I look forward to a time where maybe we’ll have to limit because we have all those gaps filled, but we know we’re not there.”

Kaiser physician Dr. Andrew Tan, Maui Memorial’s interim trauma medical director, is hopeful that the hospitals will get more trauma surgeons. He stepped in as interim director in February 2016 because the hospital was at risk of losing its Level III trauma designation without one. (This indicates the level of trauma care that a hospital can provide. The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, for example, is a step above at Level II.)

“We have had some gaps from the physician side,” Tan said. “At times through the year we didn’t have orthopedic surgery. It was a problem because sometimes people had fairly straightforward fractures that normally would get fixed here. But there was no one here that could fix them. They would get sent to Oahu, which everyone knows is sort of a pain.”

Trauma cases are “very disruptive” because they take priority over other patients, Tan said. And while some people think trauma is only limited to the emergency room, “it’s really a continuum of patients” going from the ER to the operating room and other floors. It can also include patients who are discharged and in rehab.

Tan said he hopes that the hospital can start hiring more physicians for the intensive care unit and for trauma. Having trauma-dedicated surgeons means that fewer doctors would have to leave scheduled appointments.

“If you’re a patient that waited a month to get an appointment, and your doctor has to go running off to trauma, that’s kind of a drag,” Tan said. “Just having more people gives you a lot more flexibility.”

MMMC has made progress over the past six months — cutting down its orthopedic trauma transfers to Oahu by 70 to 75 percent, said Dr. Warren “Vic” Ayers, a Kaiser Permanente orthopedic surgeon who was brought in from California last fall.

“We’re trying to make the community more comfortable about the hospital,” Ayers said.

He said he hoped that the hospital could continue to make improvements that would save money, as well as encourage healthier patients through programs such as preventative medicine.

“People in general on Maui know there’s a lot of dollars lost in this hospital,” Ayers said. “Some of those are just inefficiencies that I think can be looked at.”

Melnikoff said that if a person were to be hired before the transition, the switch from state to private employee “is not complicated at all.” Candidates will need to apply with the state, undergo screening and present all proper documents. While Kaiser will require certain documents, some might be the same required by the state, such as a medical license, Melnikoff said. And Kaiser won’t ask employees to fill out a new application.

She added that employees who start before the transition also can get a head start on accruing time off and retirement benefits.

Spokeswoman Laura Lott said that she hopes the hospitals’ job openings could help convince some local talent to stay in the islands for work.

“I hope people on Maui tell their kids and grandkids who want to move home to be closer to family that this a really good opportunity,” Lott said.

As July nears, the fear is still floating around that the hospitals will only accept Kaiser-insured patients, but Lott emphasized that the facilities “will remain open to all regardless of insurance and ability to pay.”

To view job openings, visit corp.hhsc.org/recruit/maui_region.cfm.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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