The blessing of its new emergency room and diagnostic lab Friday may be just the beginning of Lanai Community Hospital's efforts to further satisfy the health care needs of island residents and the plans of billionaire Larry Ellison's Pulama Lana'i.
"We do think there is a lot of positive movement going on on the island of Lanai," said Nick Hughey, administrator of critical access hospitals for the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Maui Region, whose area of responsibilities includes Kula and Lanai hospitals.
The blessing of the $2.3 million renovation of the Lanai hospital is an example of that. The only hospital on the island now has a "three-bay modern emergency room" and an isolation room to treat infectious illnesses, he said. There also is a separate glassed area for the nurses station.
Carole Starbird (left), Lanai Community Hospital assistant administrator and director of nursing, shows a bed and patient monitoring equipment Friday in the hospital’s new emergency room to Gina Flammer, Maui Region board member of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
CAROL CLARK photo
The Rev. Jose McCoy (left) and kahu Jerry Freitas officiate during the blessing of the facility’s recent $2.3 million renovation project.
CAROL CLARK photo
The emergency department had been a 200- to 225-square-foot single room with two beds, Hughey said.
The emergency room renovation will help cover current needs with "a little room for growth," he said. He noted an increase in volume to the emergency room in the last year, which he attributed to a growing population, more tourist activity and a busy flu season. Residents accounted for much of the increase in emergency room visits, he said.
Other improvements included moving the diagnostic lab into an expanded, air-conditioned facility and renovating the waiting area.
The waiting room had been an open area with chairs, Hughey said.
"Now, we have a centralized waiting area," he said. "You can never underestimate the importance of a nice, formal waiting area."
The lab and diagnostic service improvements are key as well, he said, pointing out that the hospital is the island's only provider of those services.
"It's a major renovation for our outpatient experience," he said. "We are really upgrading the health care infrastructure on Lanai."
In addition to the lab, diagnostic and emergency room services, the hospital originally built in 1927 has four acute and 10 long-term care beds. The hospital receives about 30 admissions and 1,000 emergency room visits a year, and in 2012 served nearly 2,000 lab and 591 X-ray patients, its website said.
Also on the hospital grounds are Liberty Dialysis and the public health nurse.
Other improvements are in the works, including a new roof for the building and electronic medical records systems, he said.
There also is an effort to form the Lanai Community Hospital Auxiliary, which is already looking for volunteers. Among its plans are to fundraise and to build a serenity garden.
"We hope to expand our services as the island grows, and we can only do that with the help of our community partners," Hughey said. "The redevelopment of our auxiliary is also instrumental to our future."
At the top of the list of those partnerships has to be Pulama Lana'i, Ellison's company that owns most of the island. Hughey said that hospital and company officials have been in "close communication," especially as the hospital tries to anticipate the health care needs of the changing island landscape brought about by the plans of the Oracle co-founder.
"Pulama Lana'i . . . has been supportive," Hughey said.
But the support has been "small-scale operational support" so far, he said. "Nothing on a grand scale yet."
The hospital and its partners are assessing the needs of residents and the future needs of Pulama Lana'i, Hughey said. Those partners also include Straub Clinic & Hospital, the Lanai Community Health Center and Liberty Dialysis.
Any plans, however, must be "viable and sustainable," he said.
Offering a lesson in health care finance, Hughey said that Lanai hospital is "not a break-even" proposition because the 3,000 residents on the island are not enough to support a critical care hospital.
"We don't have the volume to break even," he said. "Our fixed costs are too high."
The hospital has to purchase equipment, maintain it and pay the salaries of staff.
"It's an expensive endeavor . . . (but) that is the reality of rural health care," Hughey said.
The shortfall is covered by an annual state subsidy of nearly $1.2 million, he said.
Among the more popular ideas for health care improvement in the community is prenatal care. Pregnant women on Lanai currently have to go off-island for prenatal visits and to deliver their babies. Emergency births may be handled in the Lanai hospital emergency room.
Hughey indicated that providing baby-delivery services at Lanai hospital is not likely at this time, but the hospital may be able to partner to provide prenatal care and eliminate those off-island trips for exams.
"We cannot proclaim to be all things to all people or to provide all services, but we will continue to commit to provide quality, compassionate care to those in need and to continue to work to improve and explore ways to strengthen and expand the health care on Lanai," he said in prepared remarks at the blessing.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.