Without emergency funding, key Hawaii Island pharmacy that serves cancer patients could close
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scores of cancer patients on Hawaii Island are at risk of losing access to the chemotherapy drugs keeping them alive.
That’s because the pharmacy at Kona Community Hospital could be forced to close if it doesn’t meet new regulations set to go in effect later this year.
Officials say the problem comes down to money.
The hospital has plans for an expansion that would bring the pharmacy up to code. But an unexpected increase in the cost of construction stalled work.
Caught in the middle of the problem are patients like Bruce Brumeghim.
Every other Thursday, Brumeghim sits tethered to IV lines at Kona Community Hospital’s outpatient chemotherapy unit. “The infusion that I just started today takes four hours,” he said recently.
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It’s been almost four years since he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. A type of cancer that attacks bone marrow.
“After the treatment, today will be fine. Tomorrow, I’ll feel like crap,” Brumeghim said. “Like someone tied you up to the back of your truck and dragged you around town.”
The Kailua-Kona man does his best to cope with the discomfort.
But lately, pain is only part of what he worries about.
“The drugs that we make in the pharmacy to help our cancer patients are at risk,” said Clayton McGhan, chief executive officer for the West Hawaii Region.
He said keeping the pharmacy open will require an appropriation from the state Legislature of about $2.3 million.
That’s the rest of the money needed to finish an expansion project that’ll bring the facility up to code.
“These regulations are just coming out and hospitals everywhere are going to have to follow the same rules,” said Loretta Buasriyottiya, pharmacy compounding coordinator.
In order to meet the new standards, she said, “We need our air returns moved. We need more space and we need an additional hood.”
If upgrades aren’t made to the pharmacy, the hospital’s CEO said it will dramatically impact patient care.
“They’ll have to go to Hilo which is a two hour drive. Or they have to fly off island,” McGhan said.
The pharmacy at Kona Community Hospital makes IV chemotherapy drugs for 500 patient visits a month.
Closing the pharmacy, McGhan said, would impact other Neighbor Islands, too. “Because now they’ll have to go to Oahu, for example, or Maui to receive care. And they’re already overburdened as it is.”
That’s not the only reason the hospital wants to keep treatment local.
“Some patients don’t have the means or ability to drive to the other side of the island,” said Missy Elliot, hospital director of pharmacy. She says some patients are required to come in for chemotherapy up to five times a week.
“They’re tired, they’re sick, they may have nausea, diarrhea and they’re in pain,” said Elliot. “So if it comes down to that’s their only option. They may choose not to get treatment at all.”
Brumeghim, the patient, added: “You do the math. Two hours to drive over (to Hilo). Four hours for treatment. And two hours to drive back. It would be devastating. Not just for me.”
He says he’s dealing with enough as it is.
“Have the legislature think about this,” Brumeghim said.
“Think about the people in the community that depend on this.”
The new regulations go into effect Nov. 1.
However, officials say if the hospital gets the funding, it will have about two years to complete the project.
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