‘Hear our story’: Healthcare workers at Maui’s main hospital rally for better wages

It's not a strike or a picket. They say, it's a call for help.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 7:15 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 7:52 PM HST
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WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens of healthcare workers from Maui’s main hospital held signs in Kahului on Wednesday.

Approximately 75 Maui Memorial Medical Center employees lined Kaahumanu Avenue near Puunene Avenue demanding better pay to afford Hawaii’s cost of living.

China Kapuras is a case management specialist at the hospital and has been working there for 16 years.

She says it’s a tough job with pay that does not keep up with Hawaii’s high cost of living.

“I haven’t been able to live on my own comfortably,” Kapuras said. “I’ve always had to find a roommate. It’s just hard, and I know friends that also are having a hard time.”

“I know a lot of other staff that work more than one job, I’m included,” said Josh Masslon, a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit.

According to the United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaii (UNHCEH), nurses in Hawaii earn the lowest salaries in the country when cost of living is factored in.

UNHCEH is a chapter of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP).

Union representatives are calling on hospital leadership to boost pay and benefits as part of ongoing contract talks.

“It’s about retaining staff and remaining competitive to the mainland because Hawaii keeps losing people to the mainland and young people should be able to afford to live here and make a living wage,” Masslon said.

Maui health officials said Hawaii pays the second highest healthcare worker salaries in the nation but admits the high cost of living challenges the ability to recruit and retain employees.

“These complex issues remain a challenge and it will take collaboration with colleagues throughout the health care industry and the state to provide pathways to solutions,” said Maui Health spokesperson Tracy Dallarda.

Hospital employees said better pay will ensure a better work-life balance, safe staffing and high-quality patient care.

“We have been very loyal and dedicated to this hospital, and we would like to get recognized,” Kapuras said.

“We just want you to hear our story,” Kapuras said.

Dallarda said this is not only a statewide issue, but a well-documented nationwide challenge:

On July 18, 2022, Health and Human Services posted a report on state hospital staffing levels across the country. Hawaii hospitals were ranked number seven in the country facing critical staffing shortages, with an expectation the shortage will persist. This is not a surprise. Even prior to the pandemic, Hawaii had a significant deficit of health care professionals. The pandemic has only exacerbated this shortage. In addition, Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country.

The union has been bargaining with the hospital since July of this year.

Contract negotiations resume on Thursday.