Health centers appeal for funding
Money is running low to care for uninsured patients at 14 sites
The West Hawaii Community Health Center "went above and beyond" to provide compassionate care to Bob, who was developmentally disabled and suffering from recurrence of cancer, said friend Peggy Innes.
The health center staff, "though visibly very busy, treated Bob and I like royalty." They even opened on Saturday to see him, said Innes, who was Bob's personal assistant, at a recent House Health Committee hearing on funding for community health centers.
Fourteen community health centers, making up the state's health-care safety net, will run out of money to care for the uninsured without an additional $2 million, said Beth Giesting, chief executive officer of the Hawaii Primary Care Association.
The association is asking the Legislature for the money in addition to $3.5 million budgeted by the state administration for uninsured services in the next fiscal year.
"Please search your heart and ensure that the community centers ... have the funds they need to help the many Bobs that enter their doors," Innes asked legislators.
Before Bob died 15 months ago, Innes said. "He would tell me how he missed his friends at the center."
Giesting said the centers are providing medical, behavioral, dental, pharmaceutical and "enabling" services to 100,000 people annually on 46 sites on six islands. They are people who otherwise would go without health care or end up in already struggling emergency rooms and hospitals, she said.
Thomas Driskill, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., told lawmakers he fully supports the community centers both from a patient care and cost perspective. People who cannot find care at the centers turn to emergency rooms at three times the cost, he said.
The health centers are mostly in rural areas, serving people who are uninsured, homeless, impoverished, enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare, and have language, cultural or mental health needs, Giesting said.
Besides enhanced Medicaid and Medicare payments and financial subsidies, the centers provide jobs and training for dental and medical assistants and other professionals, she said.
The centers are developing new sites and services to meet increased needs, but capital costs thwart expansion and they suffer "chronic economic shortfalls," Giesting said.
They run out of money every year to care for the uninsured and still only see about 30,000 of an estimated 110,000 to 130,000 uninsured residents, she said.