More statewide cuts could follow Kona hospital layoffs

By Leland Kim - bio | email

KONA, Hawaii (KHNL) -  Kona Community Hospital lays off ten percent of its staff, and more cuts are on the horizon.  Governor Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) is mandating a four percent cut for most state departments and that includes Hawaii's public hospitals.

Doctors say this will severely cripple the state's already fragile health care system, one already stretched thin by low reimbursements, and the high cost of practicing medicine.

"They're seeing shortfalls because reimbursements are so low in the state of Hawaii, so further cuts would just deepen the crisis," said Rep. Josh Green, D-Big Island, who is also a physician in the Kona community.

The four percent cut is effective now, which means struggling neighbor island hospitals have an even tougher road ahead.

Fifty five fewer employees at a hospital struggling to get by.

"These are very tough to deal with," said Dr. Stephen Denzer, a Kona hospital physician.

But this could be just the beginning of further cuts to Hawaii's health care system.  Governor Lingle's mandatory four percent cut affects most state departments, including public hospitals.

"There's basically no fat at Kona hospital to begin with so these are people doing real meaningful work there," said Dr. Denzer.

A couple of weeks ago, Medicare cut reimbursements to Hawaii physicians by ten percent.  So, cuts on top of more cuts could mean disaster.

"I'm urging the governor to not cut," said Rep. Green.  "In fact, we need to put more money in the health care system so the neighbor islands can continue to give care to the people."

This comes as neighbor islands struggle to attract and keep doctors.

"For a physician to come to Kona and deal with lowest reimbursements, highest cost of doing business, and instability at the hospital, obviously would be a very tough sell," said Dr. Denzer.

Neighbor island doctors say they and their patients are suffering because politics tend to be Oahu-centric.

"There's absolutely no question that Oahu politicians need to come spend time on the neighbor islands," said Rep. Green.  "They need to seek care on the neighbor islands, and they'll see that these cuts are unfeasible."

"A growing, prospering community like West Hawaii should not have any problem attracting and retaining physicians and having a safety net hospital that functions well," added Dr. Denzer. "There's something wrong with the fundamentals when this kind of thing happens again and again."

Again, neighbor island doctors say even deeper cuts are unrealistic, and if implemented, could shut down some hospitals.  Almost all state departments are impacted by the four percent cuts.  The exceptions include the legislature, the judiciary, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.