Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023|
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Mayor Mitch Roth called the state of health care on Hawaii Island “an emergency situation.”
“Hawaii County is really lacking in health care resources,” Roth said Wednesday in an livestreamed interview. “I think we’ve got about a 50% shortage on health care workers. We have hospitals that really need repair and really need to come up to the state of the art.”
Roth said that when he suffered a heart attack on Jan. 9, 2021, in Kona, that Kona Community Hospital “was not an option.”
Roth was taken by ambulance to Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital and subsequently was transferred to Hilo Medical Center.
“We really need to be building things up, especially when you think about the Life Flights being canceled for awhile,” he said. “… So we’ve been having some great conversations with the governor, with the state and with the hospitals themselves.”
Roth isn’t the only one concerned about the island’s hospitals, especially Kona Community Hospital.
Steve Freedman, whose 63-year-old wife Rhonda Dee Depontes Freedman died July 14 after a two-vehicle collision in Kona, said Wednesday he wonders why she was taken to KCH instead of the more modern North Hawaii hospital.
“She was alive for an hour and a half,” Freedman said. “The paramedics that took her (to the hospital) couldn’t even believe that she had died. They knew she was in an accident, but she was up, she was coherent, she was talking.
“They made a decision on their own to take her to Kona hospital. which we find out, is a hospital that doesn’t have a trauma team for what she needed. The state thinks that a level III (trauma center) hospital is sufficient for Kona. And it’s not.
“And my wife is dead today because they don’t have the proper tools at the hospital, and they need to upgrade it.”
HMC and QNHCH also are level III trauma centers, the same as KCH. The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu is the state’s only level I trauma care hospital.
Tripler Army Medical Center, also in Honolulu, is the state’s only level II trauma hospital, but accepts only military-connected patients. Maui Memorial Medical Center hopes to be certified level II for trauma care later this year.
There has been talk for some time about building a new hospital at an estimated cost of $300 million to replace the 94-bed KCH, which was built in 1974. Hilo Medical Center is in the midst of a $50 million upgrade to add 36 acute beds to its current total of 166, and an additional 19 Intensive Care Unit beds.
“When I was in the hospital in Hilo, there’s 11 ICU beds, and all of those beds were filled up,” Roth said “Today, as we sit here, I can guess from my conversations with the hospital that there are 25 to 30 people who are sitting in an emergency room as overflow.”
Roth, who said his priorities are to get the $50 million in funding for the Hilo upgrade and $20 million for Kona, acknowledges that the scarcity and price of housing in Hawaii are feeding the shortage of health care professionals.
He advocated for the passage of House Bill 920. The measure, introduced by Puna Rep. Greggor Ilagan, would allow counties to adopt a building code for single-family dwellings, additional dwellings, duplexes, and noncommercial structures that is less stringent than the state building code.
“Like the rest of the state, we’re dealing with issues on how long it takes for permits to get through, and we’re trying to find every way we can to make those permits go through a little bit quicker,” Roth said.
Roth noted that the state code, pattered after an international code, has provisions for snow load ratings on roofs and a that a licensed engineer certify the house can withstand winds up to 130 mph.
“We don’t have a lot of snow in Hawaii, so we should be able to make some changes there to reduce the cost of housing,” he said. “… However, for a licensed engineer to sign off, you have to have licensed engineers. And it’s taking people between eight to 12 months to find a licensed engineer that’s willing to charge you about $1,000 to put a stamp on (architectural plans) saying that the wind speed is OK.
“… The County Council really should have the ability to make changes. And we’re really happy to see that the other islands have been jumping on board and supporting this bill, as well.”
The measure has passed the House and its first Senate floor vote, but hasn’t yet been referred to any committees.
Roth said he’s also consulting with government agencies, landowners and private developers to build workforce housing around the Hilo and Kona hospitals.
“For me, this is a matter of life and death,” he said. ” … So when I look at our legislators, I’m optimistic that they’re going to make some good decisions to make sure that we get the funding.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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