HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hilo Medical Center officials say in order to reduce a $9 million shortfall and keep their doors open, they'll have to cut positions and cancel improvement plans.
"Hospitals are threatened all over the country. We're having to get in and make these changes in order to keep the services going for our communities, and that's what we're committed to -- trying to make sure that these very fragile safety net hospitals in the neighbor islands are kept up and running," explained East Hawai'i Region Chief Executive Office Howard Ainsley.
Hilo Medical Center is one of 12 facilities under the state's public hospital system, Hawai'i Health Systems Corp., which as a whole is facing a $48 million budget deficit.
"We fully understand we have the responsibility to do everything we can to reduce our expenses. While we believe all of our services are essential we must examine all options in order to make up for this huge deficit," said Miles Takaaze, the Public Affairs Director for HHSC.
Officials say Medicare and Medicaid don't pay enough to cover all the services HHSC provides, so there's always a deficit. While the state has a commitment to help subsidize them, officials say there is not enough surplus to fund everything that's needed.
"We're examining closely effective ways to improve our revenues, decrease expenses, increase standardization, implement best practices and other internal efficiency efforts -- while striving to improve the quality healthcare we provide our island communities throughout the state of Hawai'iʻ," said Takaaze.
Hilo Medical Center is estimating their share of the loss at $9 million. Officials say they've fired one of the hospitals two urologists, but were able to limit additional layoffs through attrition. A total of 5 administration positions and 25 temporary "traveler" nurse positions will not be renewed or filled.
"We are so very appreciative of their hard work and their dedication and commitment to patient care. These are difficult times. We're going to have to continue to look for ways to decrease costs and increase quality and also improve that satisfaction level for our patients," said Ainsley.
Officials say they'll also have to cancel plans to replace old equipment and install solar panels.
"The changes that we implemented for our East Hawai'iʻ region, in large part, are just working smarter and being more efficient and trying to bring value to our community," Ainsley said.
Senator Josh Green, an ER surgeon on Hawai'i Island, describes the cuts as unfortunate.
"If any of those hospitals were to close, large parts of our state would have no services. We can't allow any hospital to close. On the other hand, if we don't have enough resources you're going to see them laying off people and that's also very, very damaging to the community," said Green.
Senator Green says he has proposed legislation to solve this problem by partnering HHSC regions with local private companies like Queens, Hawaii Pacific Health or Kaiser to eliminate redundancies and streamline services.
"Have a local partnership, keep all the jobs intact so we would respect our local workers and not cut any services, but make things a little tighter," said Green. "We're such a small state that we can't afford any extra losses and that's why you're seeing what you're seeing today in Hilo."
Green believes the announcement from Hilo Medical Center is just the beginning. He anticipates similar cutbacks will be revealed at other locations across the state in a matter of weeks.
One option being considered on Kaua'i is the closure of a clinic in Kalaheo. If so, the existing staff will be transferred to neighboring clinics.
"Until such time plans are finalized, no details will be released to protect the integrity of the review and decision-making process," said Takaaze, who added HHSC is committed to working with the state and will continue to have discussions about the potential for a public private partnership.
"We're doing everything we can as a responsible community hospital system to maintain and improve the quality of healthcare we provide," Takaaze said.