Senators ask governor to address uncertainty with Maui hospital privatization

Senators ask governor to address uncertainty with Maui hospital privatization
Published: Sep. 21, 2016 at 9:58 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 22, 2016 at 12:48 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four state senators are calling on the governor to address ongoing uncertainty at Maui Memorial Medical Center, which is being privatized.

It's a situation they say has life or death consequences if it isn't resolved soon.

"It is really the governor's job to get this done. If they don't get this done and people suffer, I'm sorry to say, but it's going to be on them," said state Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona, Kau).

The lawmakers want Ige to reconvene a special session to address unresolved concerns regarding severance packages and retirement benefits for the public hospital workers affected by the transfer to Kaiser Permanente.

In August, Gov. David Ige announced he and the union representing more than 500 Maui County hospital workers had reached a settlement over the transfer, but lawmakers say they have yet to see a signed deal.

They say speculation about what might happen is impacting the hospital workforce and jeopardizing medical services.

"I'm worried, as a physician, that some people could experience harm or loss of life because of the uncertainty," said Green, who is an ER doctor on Hawaii Island.

"Ask any of the doctors or nurses or administrators on Maui, this period of limbo will result in less care for people, a more uncertain and unsafe environment for people, and more transfers over to Oahu, and that's not the health care the people of Maui deserve. So I'm calling on the governor to resolve this."

State Sen. J. Kalani English, whose district includes east and Upcountry Maui, says the Legislature stands ready to assist the governor with this complicated transition -- they just need to be called back into a special session.

He says lawmakers are willing to consider emergency funding if the hold-up is money. If it's a policy issue, he says they're willing to examine changes that may need to happen.

One issue that's come up, for example, is sick leave. Officials say an estimated 25 percent of the Maui hospital work force has been calling in sick daily.

"The law right now says you cannot cash that out, but maybe in this situation it may be one where we do an exemption. Instead of shorting the system -- in other words nobody is at work because everyone is using up their sick leave -- we'll say look, we'll buy your sick leave. We'll pay you cash for it, but do come to work," English said.

He added he and his fellow Maui delegation -- state Sens. Roz Baker and Gil Keith-Agaran -- are frustrated by the lack of communication from the governor's office. He says the administration hasn't even responded to their letter, which was sent on Sept. 6.

"We're still in the dark. We're still unsure of what's happening. The only thing I can say with certainty is I will not sit back and allow the medical infrastructure in Maui County to disintegrate and fall apart and I won't sit back and watch as our professionals leave," English said.

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, last week Ige's administration indicated that despite the announcement of a settlement with the hospital workers union, the governor was still trying to "work toward a definitive agreement."

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