Fiddling while Rome burns

There is an old business adage that in a crisis, the only thing worse than a bad decision is no decision.

While one may argue that the business model of Maui Memorial Medical Center and other hospitals in the Hawaii Health System Corp. are not yet in crisis mode, the only thing keeping it from such are stopgap funding measures by the state Legislature. And those may be ending this year.

In a story in Sunday’s Maui News, Wesley Lo, Maui Region chief executive officer of the HHSC, said patient service cutbacks and employee layoffs are options that have to be considered to deal with an expected $15 million shortfall for MMMC, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital.

The just completed legislative session gave HHSC $102 million in funding for the next fiscal year. HHSC had sought $150 million.

Most importantly, the Legislature could not reach consensus on giving HHSC hospitals the right to seek out private partners. A bill that would have limited partners to nonprofit health organizations already doing business in the state failed in the waning hours of the session.

Lo and other health care professionals had not wanted partners limited to companies already doing business in Hawaii. Last year, MMMC had preliminary discussions with Banner Health, a nonprofit based in Phoenix.

Without the Legislature’s OK, HHSC hospitals cannot partner with a private company.

Frankly, the Hawaii-only option may not have been ideal but it might not have been a bad place to start. If HHSC hospitals begin cutting services or get entangled in labor disputes over layoffs, they are going to be less attractive to potential business partners.

We are afraid the Legislature is doing a nice portrayal of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. MMMC has made wonderful strides in recent years – slowly dismantling it is not what the community deserves.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.