The long-awaited privatization of Maui County's three public hospitals recently cleared another huge hurdle. State lawmakers approved funds last week to complete the transfer of operations to Kaiser Permanente on July 1.
The state's budget bill contains roughly $73 million for operations, employee benefits and renovation work on the facilities.
Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lanai Community Hospital were all supposed to become private institutions on July 1, 2016, but union disputes pushed the transition date back an entire year.
During the delay, workers at Maui Memorial have endured staffing shortages and crowded facilities.
"We had five solid months of 100 percent occupancy or more, so it was a difficult stretch," said Dr. Barry Shitamoto, interim chief executive officer of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation's Maui Region. "I can feel the tailwind right now. It was a tough year."
The funding doesn't include $9.5 million to cover costs that resulted from the delay, but Kaiser officials said they're ready to move forward.
"We've been focusing on getting ready for all the onboarding, the training, and of course, we have gaps to fill," said Jean Melnikoff, vice president of human resources for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.
At one point, there were 400 personnel vacancies at Maui Memorial, according to hospital officials. Melnikoff said there are now 200 to 300 openings that need to be filled.
"You'll see postings for those key areas like laboratory, respiratory, PT (physical therapy), OT (occupational therapy), even for nurse aides and clerical positions," she said. "We have a wide variety of gaps that we're going to be filling."
Employees will have to deal with training and a new computer system, while also caring for patients, but many are looking forward to the transformation in Maui County's health care.
"I can feel the energy as we get closer and it's just so good for our community," said Shitamoto.