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Kaiser agrees to keep services and staffing at Wailuku clinic

Provider had planned to close ambulatory surgery, gastroenterology

The Kaiser Permanente Wailuku Clinic will continue to operate its ambulatory surgery center and provide gastroenterology services after announcing last fall that it planned to close the center and move services to Maui Memorial Medical Center. KAISER PERMANENTE photo

Kaiser Permanente will continue to operate its ambulatory surgery center and provide gastroenterology services at its Wailuku clinic, backing away from a plan to close the center and move services to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“After additional analysis Kaiser Permanente has found a way to allow the surgery center to remain open with all current services,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Thursday. “This new path will require minor changes to allow for better patient flow and safety enhancements.”

Employees, including nearly 30 who would have lost their jobs had the proposed changes gone through, heard about the change in plans at a meeting Wednesday.

“There was people cheering, there was people crying, and there was me,” said Adrianna Rivera, a medical assistant in the gastroenterology department. “I was kind of shocked and let it sink in.”

Michele Bausch, a registered nurse in the ambulatory surgery center, called it “wonderful news.”

“The relief was incredible because we have just been on pins and needles,” she said.

In September, Kaiser announced planned changes at its Wailuku clinic that would have eliminated 11 staff and technician positions and 17 registered and licensed practical nurses. Kaiser cited financial challenges, the cost of upgrading the Wailuku Medical Office and “the need to develop new ways to deliver care, improve efficiency and service, and reduce costs.”

In response, Unite Here Local 5 and Hawaii Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Union, representing the employees, organized virtual meetings, sign-wavings and a caravan to protest the cuts.

“That really got the community involved,” Rivera said.

She said patients wanted to see the clinic continue, knowing there would be delays without the services.

Mayor Michael Victorino, County Council members, state legislators and the community — including both Kaiser and non-Kaiser members — joined in the effort to keep the clinic open.

Bausch said employees had worried “not just for our jobs, but for everyone on the island.”

“There was a huge community response and so many people that cared and wanted to make sure we kept our services going on Maui,” Bausch said. “Not only do we need these services, we need more. We’re just so happy they listened to us. The community is probably what drove it home for this decision.”

She said the Wailuku clinic will continue to provide “very specialized” services that are important in diagnoses, including cancer.

“These are pretty important things we do,” Bausch said. “We were worried about these people that can’t get what they need. Our hearts went out to all the people that would miss out on these services that are really needed. Our goal from the beginning was trying to convince Kaiser that this is not about our jobs and not just about the bottom line. This is about lives you can’t measure with any kind of money.”

Kaiser said the decision to keep the clinic running with no changes in services or staffing came after “a new team looked at the issues and came up with different and creative solutions.”

“We greatly appreciate the patience and dedication of our staff, physicians and labor management partner unions during the past several months,” Kaiser said.

Rivera, a full-time student at Oregon State University who has worked for Kaiser since 2011 and at the Wailuku clinic since 2014, said she had been “hoping and praying” that the clinic would continue to operate.

“I’m really thankful to the community for stepping up and letting their voices be heard about how they felt,” she said. “I’m also really thankful to everyone who helped us and also Kaiser for taking the time to listen to us, reevaluate the situation and decide that wasn’t the best course of action.

“It felt like an uphill battle for a long time.”

Added Bausch: “Look what happens when you come together. This was a victory that was no small victory, and it was because everybody helped.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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