So yesterday the board that runs Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital decided that it wants to partner up with Kaiser Permanente. For much of the last year, local hospital and public officials have been talking up the financial doomsday these hospitals were facing. Either give us more money, these officials told the state Legislature, or let us find a private partner (click here for my November 2014 story on the political background of all this). Giving Hawaii Health Systems Corporation (HHSC, the quasi-public company that runs our hospitals) more money was dead on arrival, so in June, Governor David Ige–after contentious negotiations–signed Act 103, which made a private partnership possible.
“As a board, we were grateful for the opportunity to talk to staff, physicians, and our friends and neighbors about what kind of healthcare model we want moving forward,” said Avery Chumbley, chairperson of the Maui Regional System Board, in a Sept. 23 news release. “Kaiser Permanente provided us with its vision and strategy for improved healthcare in the Maui Region. We felt Kaiser Permanente could best serve the needs of our community.”
The stakes for this deal are very high. As Chumbley’s news release pointed out, the Maui Region of HHSC serves more than 11,000 inpatients and more than 45,000 emergency room patients per year. It also employs more than 1,500 people. In fact, Maui Memorial is this island’s only full-service, acute medical care facility. It’s also the only neighbor island hospital that provides complete cardiac services, including open-heart surgery and angioplasty.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa wasted no time in applauding the board’s choice.
“The Maui Regional System Board has made its selection and I am confident that it was in the best interests of everyone in Maui County,” said Arakawa in a statement his office released yesterday afternoon. “Their main goal is to get our primary medical care facility on stable financial footing so that Maui Memorial may better serve this community. That’s why we all fought so hard to push this private-public partnership through at the state legislature. Kaiser has been a good health care provider here on Maui and I am certain they will do a fine job managing our hospital.”
But at least one public official–and a fairly powerful one, at that–isn’t happy with Kaiser.
“The recent selection of Kaiser Permanente to operate and manage the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation (HHSC) Maui Regional System facilities raises many questions and causes me to be concerned, not only with the process for the selection, but also the actions to be taken going forward in negotiating an agreement,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui in a statement also sent out yesterday afternoon.
In fact, Tsutsui would rather the Maui hospitals partner up with a different company entirely–Hawaii Pacific Health. “From all accounts, Hawaii Pacific Health had been working with stakeholders for months and expressed interest in ensuring that the needs of the Maui Regional System and the community it serves would be met,” Tsutsui said. “Kaiser Permanente, however, only more recently expressed interest in servicing the community. It remains to be seen whether Kaiser possesses the same level of commitment to the well-being of the residents of Maui County.”
The Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), which represents about 850 people at Maui’s hospitals and has opposed allowing the hospitals to get private partners from the get-go, is predictably skeptical about the Kaiser choice.
“Now that a private operator is selected, HGEA will continue to advocate for our more than 800 members in the HHSC Maui Region during this time of great uncertainty,” HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira said last night. “As is our responsibility, we will remain a strong watchdog to ensure employees are being treated fairly and that contract terms are being upheld.”
Photo of Maui Memorial Medical Center: Darris Hurst