Friday, July 6, 2001

Kaieko Herry, left, and January Cano were among the
Micronesians protesting yesterday in front of
Queen's Medical Center.

Pacific Islanders
protest treatment
by isle hospitals

Micronesians and Marshallese
say some hospitals are
refusing them health care

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Nearly 100 Micronesian and Marshallese citizens demonstrated at Queen's Medical Center yesterday protesting what they call unfair treatment from some hospitals in Hawaii.

The protesters said Queen's, Straub Clinic & Hospital and Tripler Army Medical Center do not accept patients from their countries because the hospitals are not reimbursed by their governments.

Rich Meiers, president and chief executive officer of Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents all hospitals in Hawaii and two-thirds of long-term care beds, said the hospitals are not turning people away who need health care, whether they are able to pay or not.

But he added, "Our industry is in a very serious financial condition."

Dan Jessop, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Queen's Medical Center, said, "We're trying to straighten out a fiscal problem."

Jessop said that in fiscal year 2000, Queen's suffered a loss of $16.5 million. "With containment measures, including closing departments and employee layoffs, the hospital reduced this loss to $8 million for fiscal year 2001," he said.

"We will continue to treat emergency patients regardless of ability to pay, but as our debt from Pacific Islands continue to grow, which currently exceeds $3 million, with most of this debt over a year old, we must address this loss," Jessop said.

Meiers said, "Our facilities can't afford to see this charity care increase every year." Charity care is provided to those with limited means and last year rose to $75 million, he said.

Jessop said, "We are hoping to collect this debt so we can maintain our services first and foremost to the residents of Hawaii."

Jessop suggested the Micronesians lobby their concerns to the Micronesian government.

He also recommended that the planned appropriation of $5 million for the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs to offset Hawaii's expenses for Micronesians and Marshallese go directly to the hospitals in Hawaii. The appropriation has yet to pass Congress.

Julia Estrella, an organizer for the group Island Tenants on the Rise, said the Marshallese government should not have to pay for their medical expenses because of the nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll in 1954 that poisoned some of the islanders.

"It's the military who did this," Estrella said. "People are sick."

Claire Tong, spokeswoman of Straub & Clinic Hospital, said medical care is provided for the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Guam. Some insurance carriers do require a down payment if the patient has a poor credit history, she said.

Overall, "we still provide care," she said. Officials of the Tripler Army Medical Center could not be reached for comment.

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