Cardiac unit proposal still has a pulse

A proposal to fund a cardiac care unit at Hilo Medical Center has nearly made it through both chambers of the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 1235, which would allocate an undetermined amount of funds to improve the hospital’s cardiological care, passed its final committee in the House last week and faces a final vote in the House before being sent for Gov. David Ige’s final approval.

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The bill, if passed, would allow victims of heart attacks or other cardiac conditions to receive treatment on the Big Island, rather than Oahu, as is the case currently. While the hospital can perform certain cardiac operations, some — most significantly, the placing of stents to open arteries — are beyond the its capabilities.

Because people suffering from cardiac complications need treatment within two hours, the necessary airlift to Oahu — which often greatly exceeds two hours — increases the risk of heart attack victims failing to recover.

Testimony by Hilo Medical Center during a February hearing said the hospital already has cardiac imaging equipment and software, as well as a cardiology clinic with space for three cardiologists, making it ideally suited for additional funding.

The initial language of the bill, written in 2017, called for nearly $3.5 million to be allocated to support the operation of Hana Health and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center on Maui. However, an amendment to the bill by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means removed all aspects of the original terms in 2018 and replaced them with terms focusing on Hawaii County.

The bill requires any appropriation of funds to be spent on hiring two additional cardiologists and a lab technician, as well as training staff and purchasing medical equipment and medications for the cardiac catheterization lab and intensive care unit.

In addition, the current iteration of the bill would require the Office of the Auditor to audit all contracts of more than $1 million the Departments of Health and Human Services has entered into with domestic violence nonprofits. These audits would include recommendations for best contracting preferences to increase efficiency so more money could be spent directly assisting domestic violence victims.

The bill passed the House Finance Committee on Thursday. Dozens of residents voiced their support during a hearing earlier in the week.

“As my wife and I age the presence of such services here proximal to Volcano where I live is required to keep us living here,” wrote Volcano resident Joe Garlich. “Without such services we may need to move to the mainland in the near future.”

“Most seriously compromised cardiac patients must be transferred to Oahu at a life-threatening cost of precious hours, not to mention many thousands of dollars,” wrote Dan Domizio, a Pahoa resident and retired physician assistant. “Placing the appropriate equipment at HMC will pay for itself in both saved lives and money in a very short period of time.”

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The bill has until April 12 to pass a House vote.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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