On Hawaii Island, a desperate request to house traveling nurses key to patient care

Without them, patient care is at risk.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 4:38 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lack of affordable housing is hampering Kona Community Hospital’s ability to plug critical staffing shortages ― and prompting officials to think outside of the box to address the crisis.

The facility employs more than 120 traveling health care workers.

That equates to nearly 20% of the hospital’s entire workforce, most of whom are nurses.

Without them, patient care is at risk.

The next round of traveling workers is expected to arrive in less than a month and many have no place to stay.

They’ll boost the number of traveling staff at the facility to more than 150.


“If we don’t have these nurses, we can’t provide the level of care that we want to provide for our patients,” said Director of Patient Care Services Renee Shove.

Diane Hale, regional chief nurse executive, added that a key barrier to recruiting and retaining staff is affordable housing. In fact, the situation has only gotten worse over the last several years.

Registered traveling nurse Greta Dospoy knows that all too well.

“It’s expensive to get here. It’s expensive to stay here and you also have to rent a car,” said Dospoy, who arrived in Kona in July 2022 for her second stint at the hospital.

The dearth of affordable housing is why hospital staff recently started a Facebook page aimed at connecting caregivers with furnished rental units and rental cars.

They’re urging residents and real estate agents in and around Kona to advertise their open units as soon as possible.

The next round of staff is expected to arrive March 20.

“A lot of our agency staff either travel with families or they travel with other agency staff,” Shove said. “So we have people looking for studio apartments all the way up to three-bedroom houses.”

Meanwhile, hospital leadership says it’s looking for more long term solutions.

They’ve even recently acquired a rental unit of their own.

“It’s a little two-bedroom, one-bath apartment we’ve been able to furnish and get ready for rent,” Hale said. “And we’re hoping to get somebody in there this next month.”

It’s a start, but nowhere near what’s required to fill the immediate need.

Shove said, “We would like to have 150 places we could continually have open and ready for our staff.”

With no place to live, caregivers could cancel their contracts, putting the public’s access to health care at risk.

“We’re having to do overtime for our own staff and burnout is a real thing,” Hale said.

Contracts for traveling caregivers typically start at 13 weeks and can be extended up to a year.