Nurses plead for multi-million dollar hospital expansion project in Hilo

Hilo Medical Center has about the same number of beds as it did when it opened nearly 40 years ago.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:43 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 6:17 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the most overcrowded hospitals in the state is once again asking the Legislature for help to fund a project that would significantly increase its bed count.

Hilo Medical Center has about the same number of beds as it did when it opened nearly 40 years ago.

Hospital leaders had hoped to get the go ahead so it could start an expansion project last year.

But funding fell through.

Now, Big Island lawmakers are calling on the Legislature to make it a priority in the next session.

If there’s an empty bed at Hilo Medical Center, chances are it won’t stay that way long.

“It’s just been kind of a bed crisis for a while now,” said progressive care unit nurse Caitee McAllister. “We’re just maxed out. So full.”

The Big Island’s largest hospital is so congested, nurses say it’s impacting care.

“It’s not fun for the patients,” said emergency room nurse Tyler Sumner. “They’re having to change rooms. Or rotate nurses just to accommodate for the patients that are coming in.”

Intensive Care Unit nurse Ashley Mae added, “We need not only a bigger ICU to care for those people. We need a bigger hospital in general.”

For more than a year, the 166-bed facility hasn’t just been full — it’s been over capacity by as much as 30%.

That means there are days where staff has had to find extra space for as many as 50 people.

If there's an empty bed at Hilo Medical Center chances are it won't stay that way long.
If there's an empty bed at Hilo Medical Center chances are it won't stay that way long.(Hilo Medical Center)

To relieve some of that stress, the hospital wants to add a new wing.

The extension would be built above the parking lot on the mauka side of the facility housing a brand new 18-bed Intensive Care Unit on the second floor.

That’s 60% larger than the ICU that’s currently there.

A third floor would hold an additional 36 permanent medical surgical beds.

The Bed Expansion Project is estimated to cost between $45 and $50 million.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye says the project is needed to care for the island’s growing population.

“It’s just a critical project and process that we must do as a priority,” she said.

It’s a plan hospital leaders hoped would be farther along by now, but funding fell through for the project last legislative session.

“My feedback from the legislature is that it was supported all the way to the end,” said state Sen. Laura Acasio, D-Hilo.

She says initially the plan was to use federal funds to cover the cost.

“There were some factors involved that didn’t allow it to qualify,” Acasio said.

Now, the idea needs to be brought back before the Legislature again this session.

Nurses say further delays will only hurt the people the hospital is meant to help.

“It’s not for me. It’s not for the staff here,” Sumner said. “It’s for the community. That’s ultimately who it’s going to affect.”

Meanwhile, Hilo Medical Center is also dealing with a severe shortage of full-time nurses making the facility heavily dependent on traveling caregivers from the continent.

“The need for permanent help is going to be a very important phase,” said Inouye.

Recruitment is underway.

The hospital says it’s hired 38 new nurse graduates who are expected to start work early next year.

Currently, about 25% of the nurses at Hilo Medical Center are travelers. That equals to 75 frontline caregivers.