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Josh Green and Duke Aiona Pledge to Accelerate Hilo Medical Center Reform

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Two candidates vying to be Hawaii’s next governor tackle the issue of health care on the Big Island – specifically addressing the situation at one of the most overcrowded and understaffed hospitals of State.

Hilo Medical Center doesn’t just need beds.

There is also a serious shortage of full-time nurses.

It’s a health care crisis that, if left unaddressed, could have disastrous consequences.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona and Democratic candidate Josh Green agree that what is happening at the largest hospital on the island of Hawaii cannot continue.

Inside Hilo Medical Center, there are roughly the same number of beds today as there were when the hospital was built nearly 40 years ago.

“Our population has grown exponentially. Patients are getting sicker and sicker,” said Progressive Care Unit nurse Caitee McAllister.

The result:

“We’ve been operating at about 130 percent capacity throughout the hospital,” ER nurse Tyler Sumner said. “In the emergency room, we see 140 to 160 patients a day.”

Intensive care unit nurse Ashley Mae added: “We don’t have room for these people.”

Aiona told HNN the situation appeared to be at an emergency level.

“One that needs to be dealt with immediately,” he said.

Green told HNN: “The medical center will have my support for its expansion. We need a 30% extension of the beds.

  • Hawaii’s most understaffed hospital also needs more beds
  • Nurses advocate for multi-million dollar hospital expansion project in Hilo

Over the past two years, the hospital has been pushing a plan to add a new wing.

The $50 million extension would be built above the parking lot on the mauka side of the facility housing a brand new 18-bed intensive care unit on the second floor.

The third floor would house an additional 36 permanent medical surgical beds.

It’s a plan that hospital leaders hoped was more advanced by now. But funding failed for the project during the last legislative session.

“This is another long-standing issue that has been dismissed by administrations,” Aiona said. “When you brag about a $2 billion surplus. I can tell you that I think they have more than enough money to address that concern right now.

Aiona added that the issues go beyond Hilo Medical Center, saying he thinks the entirety of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation needs to be assessed.

Meanwhile, Green says the state needs to start thinking more strategically about health care as a whole.

“It’s got to be a system if we’re going to make it work,” Green said. “That’s why I’m talking about building a system on the Big Island that meets their needs from east to west. I will support this extension (Hilo). I will support a process that will allow us to have a new hospital in Kona over time. And I would like to see a complete collaboration in the long term.

In addition to capacity issues, Hilo Medical Center is the most understaffed hospital in the state.

They are currently short of about 75 full-time nurses.

To get by, the facility relies heavily on travelers who fly in from the mainland to help out.

Both candidates agree that the creation of housing for the workforce is essential to attract and retain staff.

Green says incentives such as student loan forgiveness are also important.

“For those who train here and stay here for five years,” he said.

Additional green incentives would also apply to caregivers who come to Hawaii and work in rural areas.

Aiona says he would consider making changes to the tax laws.

“In the medical profession, it’s a big deal when it comes to the GET tax,” he said. “The exemption for physicians and their medical services. I think that’s a huge factor for a lot of doctors leaving.

Hilo Medical Center will resubmit its $50 million expansion plan to the Legislative Assembly next session.