Big Island to lose 3 surgeons - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Big Island to lose 3 surgeons

Doctor John Bellatti Doctor John Bellatti
Nancy Bellatti Nancy Bellatti

By Leland Kim - bio | email

BIG ISLAND (KHNL) - The Big Island will soon lose three orthopedic surgeons, with the first one leaving this month!

These critical vacancies leave the entire community in danger.

Dr. John Bellatti has been a Kona fixture for more than 20 years.

In February, he talked to us about life as a Big Island orthopedic surgeon.

"Any one month could seem like a gun lap in a race.  You can go faster, faster and faster and then you have another month, and another month, and another year," said Dr. John Bellatti back in February.

The race is now over for Dr.  Bellatti. He's leaving Hawaii.

"Well, the situation here has actually been about the same for years and I'm just finally responding to it. The reimburse rates for the patients that I see are fairly low. The difficulty running a practice by yourself is fairly high," said Dr. Bellatti.

He is the second Big Island orthopedic surgeon to leave the state in the past two months. A third leaves in January.

That means, if any of the 60,000 people travel to and from Kona every day were to get into a major car accident and need an orthopedic surgeon, they'd have to be flown over to the Queen's Medical Center.

This is a big change for Dr. Bellatti's own family.

"I think it's a big loss for the community overall and it's difficult for us, and it may be difficult for him, too. But it will be a process of change we will adapt to," said Nancy Bellatti, Dr. Bellatti's wife.

The high cost of practicing medicine has forced him to move to the mainland.

"I would really be looking at a double of what I'm making here -- so a 100% increase -- and not by increasing work," said Dr. Bellatti.

"It's a loss for the island, really. There's another one leaving in Kona, and there's one leaving in Waimea. And if you break a bone and hurt yourself in that way, options are really limited now," said Mrs. Bellatti.

He's shouldered the responsibility of taking care of broken bones all these years.

Now, the weight has become too heavy.

"When I was thinking about it, that was always on my mind. What's going to happen here? And then I realized that's not my responsibility until I die. It has been my responsibility for 20 years and I'd hoped the medical community would build more than it has, but the fact is it hasn't, and the forces against us are pretty big and strong," said Dr. Bellatti.

Those forces cause a statewide health care crisis.  Patients on the Big Island will have to fly to get orthopedic care, and neighbor islands - especially Oahu -- will be hit with an influx of orthopedic trauma cases.

Doctor Bellatti and other physicians have said the key to keeping doctors in Hawaii, and attracting new ones, are higher reimbursements and a medical liability or tort reform.

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