Thursday, August 16, 2001

Hospital merger
halfway home

The consolidation of 3
Hawaii facilities is OK'd
by a Kauai panel

By Lyn Danninger

The proposed merger of Kauai's Wilcox Health System, Kapiolani Health and Straub Clinic and Hospital has received unanimous approval halfway through its slate of public hearings.

The second in a series of four hearings took place on Kauai Tuesday as part of the state Health Planning and Development Agency's application process.

The Kauai Sub Area Health Planning Council recommended approval of the application after listening to public testimony on the Wilcox portion of the merger. The new organization would be called Hawaii Pacific Health. Those who submitted testimony in favor of the merger included Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, The Kauai Chamber of Commerce, The Contractors Association of Kauai and Kauai Hospice.

Kusaka said that while she is concerned about the merger's impact, she had been reassured that the merger will provide benefits over time.

Kusaka expressed hope that the merger would lead to more services and jobs for Kauai.

"It is also my understanding that Wilcox Hawaii Pacific Health officials hope to provide even more clinical service on Kauai and this creates the possibility of adding new jobs," she said.

Those who expressed reservations about the proposal included the Hawaii Nurses Association and several individual nurses employed at Wilcox. They asked that committee to delay any approval of the merger until all outstanding questions are thoroughly investigated.

With continuing losses projected for Wilcox's immediate future, several nurses asked why Hawaii Pacific Health is willing to acquire a money-losing enterprise and what that would mean for the hospital's future should it continue to lose money.

"What assurances are there that by the third year or later that Wilcox will not be sold off, leaving Kauai with a hospital of greatly reduced assets that can only result in a situation of less services being offered to Kauai residents?" said John Spaar, a registered nurse working in Wilcox's intensive care unit.

The merger applications for the three hospitals will now be reviewed together at two more hearings this month on Oahu. The public hearings will be 9 a.m. Aug. 23 and 30 in the State Capitol. The state's decision on whether to approve the merger is likely to follow within a few weeks of those meetings.

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