Plans under way
to build hospital
for West Hawaii

The $156 million facility,
if approved, would be built
between 2008 and 2113

Planning has begun to build a new $156 million hospital that would serve residents of West Hawaii.

A new nonprofit foundation, begun with a $75,000 donation from the West Hawaii Healthcare Council, has been set up to begin the process, said Ira "Lynn" Walton, chief executive officer of Kona Community Hospital, one of the proponents of the plan and the new foundation's secretary.

The new foundation is called Planned Medical Community 21st Century. Its planning committee is made up of representatives from the existing Kona Community Hospital, North Hawaii Community Hospital and the West Hawaii community, Walton said.

Walton said the new facility would expand its service area to include North and South Kona as well as North and South Kohala. It would be able to offer an array of specialty services not now available in the area, such as neurology and cardiac services, he said.

Construction would take place between 2008 and 2013. Over the next five years, additional economic, environmental and operational studies will be conducted in preparation.

But the first step will be to ask the Department of Land and Natural Resources for 32 acres of state land north of Kona. The parcel near Kealakehe Parkway, above Honokohau harbor, would house the proposed 225,000 square-foot facility, Walton said. Land in the area has already been set aside for services such as a new police station, law courts and a recreational area, he said.

Walton stressed that the current Kona Community Hospital, part of the quasi-public Hawaii Health Systems Corp., would remain in business, but would shift its focus to providing more outpatient care such as diagnostic services and emergency care.

"It will continue to provide services to the people of South Kona. It's not going away, it's just going to re-invent itself," Walton said.

Walton said the impetus for the plan is West Hawaii population projections.

"What the experts are telling us is that by the end of the decade, there would be 100,000 residents. With that number we would be able to support specialty services," he said.

Right now, the estimated population for the entire area the new hospital would serve are between 62,000 and 65,000, not including temporary residents, Walton said.

The current Kona Community Hospital has grown from 75 beds to 94 beds in the last two years. The new facility would have 142 beds, he said.

Walton believes the facility would not compete for business with existing facility such as Waimea's North Hawaii Community Hospital or smaller community facilities in Kealakekua and Waimea.

"This is not a competitiveness issue. We all work together already," he said.

Once land is secured for the project, the next step would be to submit a certificate of need to the State Health Plan and Development Agency, which would evaluate the worthiness of the proposal based on nationally established criteria. Items taken into consideration by SHPDA include cost and finances, quality of care, need and access, relationship to the existing health care system, availability of resources, and relationship to the state's health plan.

But part of the challenge in establishing any new facility is making sure it is able to support itself while maintaining quality care. Nationally, hospitals have struggled with a variety of issues ranging from ever-decreasing insurance reimbursements to increased costs due to shortages of medical personnel. Walton said a new facility would likely add a further 600 jobs.

Finding the funding for a new hospital is another big issue.

"We're not saying that the state has to support the mission entirely. We'll use multiple sources of finances, but we are not there yet," he said.

Walton said he anticipates submitting a certificate of need to SHPDA early next year.


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