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Kaiser wants patients to get cared for on Maui

The Maui News; CHRIS SUGIDONO; 8/14/15

The Maui News

KAHULUI - Kaiser Permanente Hawaii is laying its claim to become the operator for Maui's three public hospitals, vowing to provide more services, hire more staff and keep Maui residents from traveling off island for care.

Officials with the insurance and health care provider answered questions to a packed room of over 150 people Thursday evening at the University of Hawaii Maui College. The meeting was among a series of question-and-answer sessions throughout the community.

"We want everybody to get their care here," said Dr. David Ulin, physician-in-charge of Maui clinics, to the crowd of Kaiser workers, patients and concerned citizens. "It's the amount of resources that we want to maximize on Maui so we don't have to send their baby to Oahu. I've done it many times, and it's never easy. I would love to never do that again. I would love to have them right here and that's what our goal is."

Kaiser is seeking a partnership with the Maui Region of Hawaii Health Systems Corp., though it is facing competition from Hawaii Pacific Health. Gov. David Ige and other state administrators visited the island Tuesday to talk about the two suitors, one of which would take over operation of Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kula and Lanai Community hospitals.

Proposals from the two entities are due by Aug. 24.

Mary Ann Barnes, president of Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, said Kaiser arranged for the community meetings, which included a trip to Lahaina on Wednesday, so officials could "reach out to the community so they understand our vision."

Kaiser officials identified three major issues with health care on Maui: Physician shortages, especially in specialty care; long wait lists for placement in hospitals; and affordable health care.

"The vision is to increase medical services, regardless of insurance plan," Ulin said. "We want to work closely with community doctors and not lead or take over."

Earlier this year, Kaiser agreed to provide 24/7 inpatient pediatric care for Maui Memorial Medical Center after private practice pediatricians said they would no longer provide coverage. Ulin said Kaiser hired five additional doctors to carry out the contract, and that it's been "great for us and it seems to have been great for the community."

"We will hire a lot more (doctors) if we enter the partnership," he said.

Audience members asked several questions about long wait times at the emergency room and pharmacy, claiming to have waited seven to eight hours at Maui Memorial and two to three hours at Kula Hospital.

Ulin said that the issue is most likely due to staffing shortages and an old computer system that has since been updated. Barnes added that Kaiser's pharmacy system also has been upgraded to cut down on waiting and that drugs can be ordered online and delivered to a patient's door in 24 to 48 hours.

Barnes said Kaiser has strategies to reduce wait lists that have run up to 40 to 50 patients at Maui Memorial. She said Kaiser already has reduced wait lists on Oahu from 30 down to four.

Some residents asked about Kaiser's accountability and if Maui's administrators would take direction from their corporate entities. Barnes said issues and health care priorities are dealt with by island and state.

"We don't take direction from corporate. It's about the community," she said.

A few Kaiser nurses had concerns about their insurance, seniority and new hires. One nurse said that one reason Maui nurses leave the island is because they are told they need experience before they will be hired out of UH-Maui College's nursing program.

Barnes said doctors took a chance on her when she was hired as a nurse at the beginning of her career and vowed to train new nursing grads, regardless of their experience.

Rose Kroner, a registered nurse at Maui Memorial for 24 years, has Kaiser for her insurance but wondered if employees with HMSA would not be covered.

Barnes said if Kaiser gets the partnership contract, the first six months remain the same. She said Kaiser is open to accepting other insurance providers and would work with whatever union partner that represents employees.

For seniority, she said, she recognizes workers' "longevity" and plans to have a discussion with union members.

In saying why Kaiser should get the contract, Barnes said it has an economic model that would help it add more equipment to operating rooms and surgery rooms, which are critical. She said Kaiser may also convert the many double rooms at Maui Memorial into private rooms.

"We're committed," she said. "We've been here since 1969. We have over 55,000 members here, and we're really committed at providing health and working with the community."

Kaiser has medical offices in Wailuku, Kihei and Lahaina. It also has a behavioral health services facility and Rainbow Dialysis Centers in Wailuku and Lahaina.

Kaiser opened its first Maui clinic in Lahaina in 1969. It has 95 physicians and 350 employees caring for 56,000 Kaiser members on the Valley Isle.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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