And now, hopefully, we can bring the curtain down on one of the scariest political dramas to hit Maui County in the last decade. Yes, kids: it looks like the battle over the future of the county hospitals–including Maui Memorial Medical Center (MMMC)–may have finally ended (which, to be fair, was more exciting than Saturday night’s Mayweather-Pacquiao bout).
On May 1, the state House of Representatives and Senate passed HB 1075 CD1, a compromise bill that will allow Hawaii Health Systems Corporation (the unusual sort-of public entity that runs Maui County hospitals) to pair up with a private and/or nonprofit hospital. The reason? Tens of millions of dollars in annual deficits (and a lack of appropriations from the state) that had prompted hospital officials to threaten draconian cuts to services and staff.
Seriously, people have nightmares over fights like this. People tend to take hospitals and healthcare very seriously, and it’s terrifying that budget disagreements could remove a lot of care options from a small community like Maui County.
An earlier version of the bill was expected to pass, but Gov. David Ige (backed by powerful public employee unions that opposed the measure) then stepped in and called for a conference committee to thrash out a new compromise. A May 1 news release from the House Communications Office summed up the changes added to the new bill, which is a bit stronger now on employee protections:
“HB1075, CD1 requires MRS to re-solicit proposals from any party locally and nationally interested in partnering with it to operate its hospitals,” stated the news release. “It will also allow the Governor to direct negotiations for the transfer of MRS facilities to protect and further the state’s interest in controlling the levels of financial support for HHSC operations and maintaining current levels of access to healthcare services on Maui.
“The measure will also preserve all rights, benefits and privileges earned by HHSC employees and requires the new nonprofit management to offer employment to all employees of facilities transferred for at least six months.
“In addition, the measure would cap the state’s financial support to the transitioned facilities at the amounts provided in fiscal year 2014. Transitioned facilities will also be eligible to apply for Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds for up to the first 10 years.”
Legislators expect Ige to sign the bill into law, but they’re taking no chances. Even Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who I would think could just knock on Ige’s door, took the trouble to issue a formal statement calling on the governor to sign the bill.
“Now that the Legislature has passed House Bill 1075, I am urging Governor Ige to expedite the process so that Maui Memorial Medical Center can find the right partner,” Tsutsui said in his statement, which he also sent out on May 1. “With the hospital facing a $28 million budget deficit, time is of the essence in preventing cuts in health care services and jobs.”
Photo of Maui Memorial Medical Center: Darris Hust