State cuts could cripple health centers

Heather Lancaster
Heather Lancaster
Sheila Beckham
Sheila Beckham

By Zahid Arab - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - With a budget deficit of $730 million, Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) is looking for big savings by slashing spending across the board. That includes, $42 million in state healthcare benefit cuts for low-income adults.

Now, places like the Waikiki Health Center are preparing for the worst.

When it comes to how Governor Lingle's cuts will affect each state department, many are still asking their "why's" and "what if's." But for places like the Waikiki Health Center, it's a matter of when they'll feel the wrath.

Heather Lancaster is one of about 400 patients at the Waikiki Health Center a week. She's schizophrenic, bi-polar, and has ADHD.

"They're kind of my lifeblood," said Lancaster.

The center doesn't turn anyone away. In April, it set a record for its amount of patients and rendered services. Blame the economy. Now, officials believe even more people are on the way as the governor's cuts weigh heaviest on low-income people that are no longer able to afford out of pocket co-payments.

Seventy-two percent of patients are on Medicaid, Quest or are uninsured. The center says the state's solution for this fiscal emergency will lead to less supply and more demand, eventually exploding in its face.

"We're bursting at the seams and I think patients are going to have longer waits, it will be harder to get appointments, it will be harder for them to control their chronic conditions," said Executive Director Sheila Beckham.

It will also take longer for uninsured patients to get on Medicaid. Like others out there, the Waikiki Health Center's stability is uncertain. People here say, Governor Lingle, listen up.

"Look at all the people that need this kind of help. That money is going to go in pockets somewhere, no one is going to get any help," said Lancaster.

"Start to look at other revenue generating opportunities, rather than continuing to cut," said Beckham.

The Waikiki Health Center's budget is made up from donations, patient revenue and both state and federal funding. If that goes down, which it's expected to do, that will affect patients, services and maybe even staff. Other health centers across the islands will suffer.