A plan to protect us

Monday night’s informational session on the transition of the Maui Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corp. to a public-private partnership with Kaiser Permanente was at once enlightening, scary and filled with hope.

Three state Senate committees and members of the Maui delegation to the state House of Representatives staged the meeting at University of Hawaii Maui College’s ‘Ike Le’a Science Auditorium.

To the credit of the testifiers, there was no sugarcoating of the problems the delay in the transition from last July 1 to next July 1 has caused. There are staffing shortages at all three facilities in the Maui Region — Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital. There are coverage shortages in some medical specialties because the uncertainty of the transition has driven some doctors from the area — and made recruitment of new ones very difficult.

However, the Maui Region of HHSC has come up with an interim plan that will, hopefully, allow the facilities to operate until the transition without cutting services. Outgoing Maui Region Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo, his interim successor, Dr. Barry Shitamoto, and board Chairman Avery Chumbley outlined an operating template to immediately begin hiring permanent nurses and technicians as well as an intensive recruitment of physicians.

Mary Ann Barnes, president of Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, said her company would help HHSC with the hiring process — immediately. Barnes said Kaiser recruits from all over the Mainland and pledged her Human Resources Department would help the Maui Region’s staff. Kaiser’s participation would send the message these would be permanent jobs.

Lo told the legislators that the plan would require emergency supplemental funding from the state to the tune of $5.6 million — $2.6 million for the recruitment of nurses, techs and clerks, $3 million for doctors. Under questioning from Sen. Jill Tokuda, Lo said the Maui Region had enough cash on hand to start the process but the Legislature needed to be ready to come up with the funds before next July’s transition.

All of the legislators present seemed receptive to the plan. An update to its status was promised in 30 days.

The community should be grateful to Lo, Shitamoto, Chumbley, Barnes and all those who helped shape the plan. There is a real effort being put forth to protect quality health care in Maui County.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.