Small hospitals get money scare
The Senate scrambles to fix a funding error affecting health centers
The state Senate Ways and Means Committee inadvertently cut funding in half for four rural health centers -- and that would have put the facilities on life support, hospital officials said.
But the Legislature was expected to change a bill at the last minute today to correct that mistake and restore a total of $2 million to Kahuku Hospital, Hana Community Health Center, Molokai General Hospital and Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.
"The intent had been to provide them with $1 million each," Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, said yesterday. "There was not as much in (the budget) as initially thought. We're going to be able to correct it with a floor amendment tomorrow."
The facilities serve small populations in isolated communities.
Baker was confident each of the facilities will get $1 million after Senate Bill 2461, Conference Draft 1, is adopted and passed Thursday.
Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said the legislative schedule has time "built in, so we can catch any of these glitches."
But health center administrators were not sure exactly what was happening yesterday and feared the worst.
"Cutting the subsidy ... would force the hospital to close all services and very quickly," said Don Olden, chief executive officer of Kahuku Hospital.
"To find out the funding was being cut 50 percent over last year was astounding," Olden said last night. "This morning, it created great anxiety."
Unlike state-run hospitals funded through the Department of Health, Kahuku is one of the few small private, nonprofit hospitals in a rural area and must rely on the Legislature to provide a subsidy every year. It is not affiliated with any other health system, unlike Molokai General Hospital, a subsidiary of Queen's Health Systems Co.
The emergency room at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which handles 20,000 emergencies a year, would be shut down for seven months if it does not receive at least another $500,000, said Richard Bettini, its chief executive officer.
"We are very frequently isolated because of road closures, fires and storms," he said. "With MAST (which provides medical helicopter transport) pulling out, we are truly isolated."
He said the center receives about 7 percent in federal funding, but those moneys can only be used for core services, not emergency services. Bettini said he would stay open five months at full capacity, rather than try to stretch services for a year without laboratory or X-ray services.
"On direct operations alone, we need $100,000 a month," Bettini said.
Like Kahuku, Waianae must also provide care for the uninsured, and it discounts or gives away free care, and federal funds account for less than half of uncompensated care, he said. Two-thirds of the 25,000 annual users fall below the poverty level, he said.