HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill is circulating in state legislature that could drastically cut funding to Hawaii's 14 community health centers.
HB 2466 aims to repeal and transfer balances of various non-general funds, including the Community Health Center Special Fund.
Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, for instance, would have to close its emergency room between midnight and 8 a.m., forcing patients to drive more than 16 miles to the next nearest option, Queen's West Oahu in Ewa Beach.
"We have lots of emergencies happen through the night and the closest ER room is nowhere on the coast," said District 43 House Representative Andria Tupola, who voted against the bill.
Hana Health on Maui would also lose funding for the 24-hour medical services it provides in the remote community.
"We're the only health care provider in the district," said Cheryl Vasconcellos, executive director of Hana Health. "We are available 24/7 and 365 days a year because we are the only health center here, and it would be devastating if our funds were no longer secured through the community health centers special funds."
The special fund that these health centers rely on comes from tobacco taxes charged to wholesalers and dealers, but lawmakers say the those revenues are diminishing and must now explore a more viable option.
"A lot of these programs need to be realistic about the reality that cigarette revenues are going to go down so they need to start thinking about what is the future of their program," said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairperson of the House Finance Committee.
"If tobacco tax funds are not going to be used for this purpose we certainly hope there will be another dedicated funding source provided by the state to be sure our important services are covered," Vasconcellos said.
A gut and replace bill was proposed by the senate to study the distribution of cigarette tax revenues. There is a public hearing on both versions of the bill Wednesday, March 23 at 9:15 a.m. at the state capitol room 211.
Hawaii Health Centers:
- Kalihi-Palama Health Center
- Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center
- Kokua Valley Kalihi
- Koolauloa Community Health & Wellness Center
- Waikiki Health Center
- Waimanalo Health Center
- Bay Clinic (Hilo)
- Hamakua Health Center
- West Hawaii Community Health Ctr.
- Malama I Ke Ola Healh Center (Maui)
- Hana Health
- Kauai Community Health Center
- Lanai Community Health Center
- Molokai Community Health Center