WAILUKU - The Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei could be home in the next couple years to an $18 million, 125-bed long-term care and skilled nursing medical center.
Plans for a nursing facility surfaced during Tuesday's Maui Planning Commission meeting, where Regency Pacific Inc. received a special accessory use permit.
The company plans to hire 187 people, up to 90 of whom would be considered highly skilled and highly paid, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, dietitians and pharmacists, according to plans provided to the commission. Most of those jobs will go to Maui residents, Regency Pacific officials said.
The company intends to partner with Maui Community College's nursing program to staff the 60,000-square-foot facility on nearly 5 acres at the end of Lipoa Parkway in the R&T Park, said Steven Oldfield, Regency Pacific development planner. With a nursing shortage across the country, the facility would include a MCC nurse training lab, according to the plans.
"If we need to, we will train them ourselves," Oldfield said.
With the permit in hand, Regency Pacific will apply for a required certificate of need from the State Health Planning and Development Agency, Oldfield said. That process is expected to take nine months.
"After I finish here (on the planning commission), I may be a patient there."
- Warren Shibuya, commissioner, retired scientist
Regency Pacific plans to break ground in 12 to 18 months, with up to another year after that for construction, Oldfield said.
Unlike some other recent forays into medical facilities, this one has the support of the island's only acute-care hospital, Maui Memorial Medical Center.
The company is not unionized and operates four other nursing facilities in Hawaii and 53 others in the western United States with a total of 10,000 patients. Up to 90 percent of the patients will have their bills, which average $285 a day, paid through federal and state programs, such as Medicare, Oldfield said.
Regency Pacific has been looking for 10 years to get into the Maui market, Oldfield said. However, the developer struggled to find a location that was affordable and had the proper infrastructure and zoning, he said.
"The process has been daunting," Oldfield said after the meeting.
Maui has a great need now - and will have an even greater need in the future - for long-term care beds as the baby boomer generation ages, company and county officials said. Hawaii has the lowest ratio of such facilities in the country, Oldfield said. Maui County has fewer than 500 long-term care beds today, he said.
Even with plans in the works to build new long-term care facilities in Kula and West Maui, the Valley Isle still needs hundreds more nursing home beds, county planners said. Maui is growing, people live longer and the elderly population is expected to triple by 2030, they said.
"After I finish here (on the Planning Commission), I may be a patient there," said commissioner and retired scientist Warren Shibuya. "Joking aside, 125 beds is just a drop in the bucket."
If the company is successful here, it will look at building more facilities on the island, Oldfield said. But the company won't add on the facility at the R&T Park site, he said. In order to maintain its sense of ohana, he said, Regency Pacific has found that 150 beds is the most it should have at any one site.
The company came before the Maui Planning Commission just to confirm that "medical" facility is an accepted use in the high technology park, which the county played a central role in creating with an ordinance passed in 1989. However, the park, like many similar ventures across the United States, has struggled to grow to meet its planned build out.
Only 10 percent, or 40 acres, of the technology park mauka Piilani Highway is built out, according to a presentation by planning consultant Chris Hart of Chris Hart & Partners Inc., which represents Regency Pacific. Still, the park has 20 businesses with 400 employees.
As for whether a long-term care and skilled nursing facility is a proper fit for the existing campuslike atmosphere, its owner/managers, Maui R&T Partners LLC, said "absolutely." After all, it was also the planned site for the Malulani Health and Medical Center before the state had proposed an acute-care hospital.
However, where the proposed South Maui hospital in the end did not receive the support of the state oversight agency or of its potential competitor, Maui Memorial Medical Center, hospital Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo supported the proposed nursing facility in a letter presented at Tuesday's meeting.
Lo said Regency Pacific's project would benefit Maui Memorial where intensive-care beds are occupied at capacity. Hospital beds could be freed up if long-term patients could be transferred to the Kihei nursing facility, he said.
The county Department of Planning also supported Regency Pacific's project proposal.
Oldfield said the facility will not only care for the elderly and dying patients. It will also specialize in treating patients with dementia and Alz-heimer's as well as younger people who've been in accidents and need skilled nursing care until they complete rehabilitation.
Maui Planning Commission Chairman Wayne Hedani said he was initially skeptical about whether the facility fits within the technology park's mission, but said he supports it entirely, especially since Regency Pacific will provide good jobs in difficult economic times.
In other action, commission members unanimously approved a special management area permit request for Maui Community College's proposed Lau'ulu Center, which will host Hawaiian language and hula classes, activities and support incoming Native Hawaiian students with a computer lab and affordable housing programs.
The commission also approved plans to construct a 45-foot-tall wind turbine to help power the single-story building.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set aside almost $800,000 for the building. However, more money will be needed to complete the center, and plans remain mostly conceptual.
Commissioners also unanimously supported a request for Maui Dive Shop to use a little-used kiosk in front of Pizza Madness on South Kihei Road for car rentals.
The dive shop wanted to use a 15-stall parking lot nearby to hold rental cars. Commissioners approved the request, but they required the company to use a filtration system to capture and remove oil, gas and other substances from the parking lot before the pollutants can reach nearby wetlands or the ocean.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton @mauinews.com.