Head of Maui County public hospitals to step down

Head of Maui County public hospitals to step down

WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Maui County's three hospitals move ahead with privatization, the leader who helped bring about the change has announced he'll step down.

Wesley Lo, CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation's Maui Region, will step down effective Oct. 31.

Lo started with the Maui Region 13 years ago as Maui Memorial Medical Center's chief financial officer, and was named CEO for the Maui region in September 2004.

He's made no secret of his plans to leave once the Maui privatization deal was finalized, but expressed disappointment at leaving before the transition is complete.

"It's sad. I had hoped to be here for the transition," he said. But with the continued delays I obviously need to continue to look out for my future. This staff is extremely resilient. They are incredible people and they will do anything to make sure that good care is delivered here."

The state's transfer of the Maui County public hospitals to Kaiser Permanente has been delayed because of legal wrangling and union disputes. In August, the state and the union representing Maui hospital workers reached a settlement that allowed the transition to move forward.

In the meantime, the hospitals continue to lose staffers. There are currently 400 vacant positions at the hospital, or about one quarter of its workforce.

"We have over 200 travelers in the hospital. They may be good nurses but it makes it harder when they're not as familiar with the system," said Dr. Mitch Tasaki, a general surgeon and vice chief of staff. "We can't recruit doctors for a short period of time. Who's gonna come? So that's the really frustrating thing about being in limb."

Kaiser is slated to take control of the Maui region hospitals in summer 2017. The Maui Region hospitals will then be operated and managed exclusively by Kaiser, but will be open to non-Kaiser members.

On Friday, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa expressed his frustrations with the transition delay.

"We cannot recruit new doctors because nobody wants to come in if they don't know from day to day whether they're gonna have a job tomorrow," Arakawa said. "We can't get nurses, support staff. We're losing a lot of them because they're afraid they're gonna be losing their jobs anyway so they're trying to find other kinds of work."

He added, "There's a very big negative effect on Maui residents. And as a matter of fact it endangers, in my opinion, the health and safety of our community."

Because of the numerous vacant positions, about 20 beds at the hospital might be cut. Lo says it's a safety issue because they are not able to recruit or retain adequate staff.

Meanwhile, the nurses have started a petition to get community members involved.

"We couldn't sit back and be quiet anymore as nurses that provide the care directly to the patients and we want the community to help us make a lot of noise, do whatever we can do to get the governor and all the parties involved to get together and make this happen," said Joan Casio, a registered nurse in the Critical Care Unit. 

Lo is departing the Maui hospitals to become the new CEO at Hale Makua Health Services. He starts Dec. 1.

As head of the Maui Region, Lo is credited with expanding and improving services, pushing for more local control and bolstering quality efforts.

In a news release, Maui Region's board Chairman Avery Chumbley called Lo "an excellent resource to this region."

"His commitment to patient safety and his commitment to and relationship with all the staff has allowed us all to steer through difficult times," he said. "His shoes will be difficult to fill."

A search for Lo's replacement is to be launched shortly.

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