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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 23, 2007

Task force endorses new hospital for West Maui

By Chris Hamilton
Maui News

PA'IA, Maui The Maui Health Care Initiative Task Force, established by the state Legislature to study healthcare needs in Maui County, endorsed a hospital for West Maui in a draft report issued Tuesday.

The task force's endorsement of the proposal for a $70 million West Maui Critical Access Center could be a boost for the project developed by the Maui Improvement Foundation.

"The county is in desperate need of a hospital with an emergency room in West Maui, emergency clinics in other underserved areas and an improved/expanded emergency helicopter transportation network to save lives," the draft report states.

The report's authors advise the task force to do what it can to expedite the West Maui hospital's application for a certificate of need from the state Health Planning and Development Agency.

Planners for the proposed hospital also recently won a recommendation for approval of land-use entitlements from the Maui Planning Commission, including a community plan amendment and zoning for 14.9 acres for its Lahaina campus.

The 30-page draft document prepared by the task force goes beyond endorsing the West Maui hospital. Other recommendations include:

  • Upgrade medical technology on the island and build more hospital beds. Maui doesn't have enough for its estimated population of 180,000 residents and visitors, with a forecast of 250,000 people, including tourists, by 2030.

  • Give the elderly more opportunities for home-based care.

  • Increase financial reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare. Hawai'i has one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country, and it's keeping top-tier medical professionals away since Maui's cost of living is so high.

  • Improve access to dental and mental healthcare.

  • Attract pharmacies that will be open late and on the weekends.

  • Upgrade the emergency room on Lana'i immediately.

    The Maui Health Care Initiative Task Force was established by the Legislature after the proposed 150-bed Malulani Hospital and Medical Center was rejected last year by the administrator of the state health planning agency.

    Administrator Dr. David Sakamoto said there is a need for additional acute-care hospital beds on Maui, but said the Malulani proposal failed to meet state criteria.

    The 15-member task force was put together in mid-August to develop a "comprehensive strategic health plan for Maui" to recommend to the Legislature when it convenes in mid-January.

    Rep. Joe Bertram, D-South Maui, initiated the task force during the last legislative session after Malulani failed. He told task force members that he hoped their efforts would be a beginning of restructuring the certificate-of-need process to take into account regional committees in deciding what's best for their communities.

    Task force chairwoman Rita Barreras said it's possible that a bill outlining that goal could go before the Legislature in the 2008 session.

    Still, a couple of task force members at Tuesday's meeting at the Kaunoa Senior Center wondered aloud how seriously their recommendations would be taken by state lawmakers.

    When asked to discuss the financial viability of the 25-bed West Maui hospital and long-term healthcare and assisted-living facility, Bertram said he believes there are enough wealthy people here to make it work.

    "But I want them (hospital organizers) to wait to move forward until they have consensus in the community for the project," he said.

    Barreras said that a West Maui hospital received support from two task force committees. She said she thought that the task force members would vote on whether to forward the final report to the health planning agency in December. The panel has meetings scheduled for Dec. 4 and Dec. 21.

    Joseph Pluta, president of the West Maui Improvement Foundation, said he appreciated the decision by the task force to support the hospital proposal.

    "It's a dream come true for me," he said. "I'm glad they've basically corroborated what we've known all along, and the needs are just going to increase."