The state’s only pancreas transplant program is closing. The reason: No surgeon

If you’re lucky enough to get the call that doctors found a match, you’ll have to travel to the continent for surgery.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 5:20 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:34 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The only pancreas transplant program in the state will stop performing surgeries next week.

The Queen’s Medical Center says it has spent the last year trying to recruit a new surgeon but couldn’t find one.

Hawaii’s pancreas transplant wait list is a short one ― made up two people.

But now, those patients will need to add their names to a wait list in another state.

“Generally what we do is to say hey, think of a program in California, Oregon, Washington. Where it’s just one flight away,” said Chief Physician Executive for the Queen’s Health System Dr. Whitney Limm.

If you’re lucky enough to get the call that doctors found a match, you’ll have to travel to the continent for surgery.

“That’s not a simple thing,” said Hilton Raethel, CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. “Because you don’t just fly over and come back again.”

Raethel said there is pre- and post-operation care.

That’s not all patients have to think about. “Does your family go with you? And if you need to be over there for a month, that can be a lot of money,” Raethel said.

For the last year, The Queen’s Medical Center has been trying to hire a new surgeon to take over its pancreas transplant program but hasn’t found anyone qualified who is willing to take the job.

Without the specialist, the hospital says it had no choice but to shut the program down.

It’s the latest example of how the state’s shortage of healthcare workers is impacting care.

“Hawaii again is a very expensive place to live. Very remote from the mainland,” said Raethel. “So it’s very challenging to recruit some of these physicians in general.”

Statewide, facilities continue to break records for the number of people being admitted.

Altogether this week, hospitals have averaged slightly under 2,500 patients.

That’s up more than 100 from last September at the peak of the Delta surge.

“We could use right now 600, 700, 800 total nurses to take care of the patients we have in our hospitals,” said Raethel, adding the only way some hospitals have been getting by is with the help of traveling nurses.

There are more than 300 from the continent currently spread out across the state.

Meanwhile, Queen’s isn’t giving up on its search for a transplant surgeon.

“We will start it up. It’s just a matter of finding the right surgeon to join the group,” Limm said.

He also wants people to consider becoming an organ donor.

He says there are more than 400 people on Hawaii’s transplant wait list. Most are in need of a kidney.

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