Cardiac funding bill stalls

Hilo Medical Center.

A bill that would further fund Hilo Medical Center’s interventional cardiac program has stalled in the final stages of the legislative process.

Senate Bill 911, introduced by Hilo Sen. Kai Kahele and co-sponsored by fellow Big Island Sens. Dru Kanuha and Russell Ruderman, had crossed over to the House for consideration last month.


An amended version was passed by the House, but as of Thursday, the measure has not been called to a conference committee, where Senate and House leaders work out differences between their versions.

HMC received $1.5 million from the state Legislature during its 2018 session to help bring the cardiac catheterization program online, and was seeking additional funding for the program in the upcoming biennium budget.

HMC has long been working to treat cardiac patients closer to home and earlier this year hired cardiologist Carl Juneau.

Ruderman said the House “seems to have refused to meet on this subject,” and because of that, the bill is dead for procedural reasons.

“I think it’s tragic, because Hilo needs this so much,” he said. “I think a lot of people here on Oahu don’t understand what it’s like to have just one option for an emergency room or hospital and perhaps don’t understand the number of people who will die due to the delays in medical treatment if they have to continue to be flown to Honolulu.”

The legislation was a “very high priority” for everyone in East Hawaii and the statewide medical system in general, Ruderman said.

“I think it’s tragic and, not to make a pun, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking this wouldn’t be funded,” he said. “Sometimes people play games with bills, but a bill like this, that saves heart attack victims, shouldn’t be among the bills people are playing games with. It’s just wrong.”

Lisa Rantz, executive director of the nonprofit Hilo Medical Center Foundation, said “it’s a sad day for our community. It brings tears to my eyes, just having to go out to our community and let them know (the legislation) is stalled, because we have such huge champions and this is a program that will save lives. People won’t have to die without the intervention.”

Rantz said the foundation is grateful to the community, “and we’ll continue the good fight. We’ll keep pushing to locate funding to keep this program going, because we won’t stop.”

“Hilo Medical Center is disappointed that SB 911, the bill to fund our interventional cardiac program, is stalled at the end of the legislative session,” HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said in a written statement. “We appreciate the many individuals and organizations in our community who took the time to submit testimony in support of this measure. Next legislative session, we will call on our community once again for its support, and we will be working with our champions, Sen. Kai Kahele, Rep. Mark Nakashima and the Big Island legislative delegation, to secure this essential funding.”

HMC recognizes the “great responsibility” it has in keeping the program going, she said.

“Over the next year, we are committed to keeping the doors open on this lifesaving service to stop heart attacks in progress,” said Cabatu. “Our community is depending on us, and state funding next year will be absolutely necessary to provide the level of cardiac care that the residents of the Big Island should expect for themselves and their loved ones.”

Kahele, however, said he is still hopeful that the Legislature will call a conference.

“It’s a little concerning that we haven’t convened conference on it yet, but I’m still holding out and hopeful there is still some time,” he said.

Kahele said it is a fiscal issue and that finding the funding has been difficult, especially with the challenges to the state budget this year. The bill initially called for $1.5 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year and an additional $1 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“There definitely is a shortage of money,” he said. “I really believe it comes down to the funding component to it, and with so many different priorities on the table, you have to prioritize everything. If we are able to find some money for it, it could happen very quickly. It doesn’t take much to convene conference … even though it hasn’t opened yet.”

Today is the deadline for final decking for fiscal bills, meaning the bill must be in the final form in which it is intended to be passed and made available to members of the Legislature.

“It is very important, not only to me, but our entire Hawaii Island delegation,” Kahele said. “We know how critical health care is on Hawaii Island. … I know it holds a special place for Mayor (Harry) Kim, because he has gone through some heart challenges himself over the last several years. He knows how important this is for Hilo. I’m hoping we can get some money for (the program).”

If state funds are not allocated, program funding for the 2019-20 fiscal year will come from the hospital.

Cabatu said the program is still on track to expand. Two more interventional cardiologists — Dr. Jamison Wyatt and Dr. James Smith — are set to join the HMC staff this summer.

Another bill seeking funding for the same initiative, House Bill 527, had crossed over to the Senate and in March but was never heard by the committees to which the bill was referred.

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