Failing infrastructure threatens future of only hospital that serves West Hawaii

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Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 5:33 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 8:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Chronic underfunding and years of deferred maintenance have key infrastructure at the only hospital in West Hawaii on the brink of failure.

Leadership at Kona Community Hospital is asking the Legislature for nearly $19 million — money to fix utilities that are falling apart.

They warn if they’re not replaced now, critical emergency services at the state-funded hospital could be at risk of shutting down.

It’s part of the hospital most people probably never think about — far away from all the patients.

High on the roof at Kona Community Hospital, there’s a constant hum emanating from a mishmash of equipment that’s been engineered together over the past 50 years.

“As the community has grown. Our system has been added to and built on,” said acting facility Director Robert Hollandsworth.

Think of it like a heartbeat that keeps the hospital alive.

“That’s pumping the extra clean air that’s required into our operating rooms,” Hollandsworth said, pointing at a piece of machinery. “You can see it’s starting to corrode. And just fall apart on us.”

Some of the facility’s cooling and ventilation equipment is so old it can’t be fixed. That’s because parts required for repairs no longer exist.

On another portion of the roof, Hollandsworth showed Hawaii News Now an air cooled chiller that’s no longer operational.

“It was built in 1996,” he said.

Other critical equipment the hospital depends on to operate should have been replaced years ago.

Hollandsworth said, “Right now we’re putting Band-aids whenever they break.”

It’s borrowed time that could run out any moment, jeopardizing critical emergency services at the hospital.

“We have equipment that could fail at any time. And if that were to happen we would potentially have to evacuate patients,” said West Hawaii Regional Chief Nurse Executive Diane Hale.

Chief Executive Officer for the West Hawaii Region Clayton McGhan added, “We really need all of it fixed.”

Hospital leadership says the situation didn’t get like this overnight, calling it the result of close to a decade of deferred maintenance and repairs that have been put off due chronic underfunding.

McGhan said, “We’ve been asking for this year, over year, over year.”

He says the $19 million funding request will go toward replacing key infrastructure.

Without it, Kona Community Hospital is at risk of turning patients away.

Some of the problems are already having a direct impact on patient care.

“This is our OB department,” said registered nurse Marla Nora. “If the air conditioner is not chilling properly, the rooms get very hot.”

Nurses say it’s a constant issue — just like the water.

Nora said, “It can take quite a while for the water to get warm. And sometimes it doesn’t.”

But their biggest fear is not being able to help someone who’s hurt and needs emergency surgery.

“Those ORs are regulated by climate control,” McGhan said.

Hale added, “If for some reason we weren’t able to keep our operating rooms properly climatized, we would not be able to offer surgical services.”

“Anytime you wait to deliver care the chances of survival decrease minute by minute,” said McGhan.