State offers up to $50K in loan payments to keep health workers in Hawaii

Hawaii remains in need of an estimated 4,000 health care workers, especially on the neighbor islands and in rural Oahu.

Health care workers with Hawaii ties are eligible for as much as $50,000 in annual loan repayments if they commit to at least two years of helping island patients.


The historic $30 million funding for loan payments approved by the Legislature last session represents just one part of a bigger goal to bring back expat health care workers and keep local talent home.

The University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine has the responsibility of administering the “Come On Home Program” and also will help connect returning health care workers to jobs.

But Dr. Kelley Withy — who already holds three positions at JABSOM — sees it as a broader effort to increase the number of health care workers with local ties by raising their salaries and developing affordable housing just for them on state-owned land.

Asked how many Hawaii-­based health care workers she hopes to recruit and retain, Withy said, “My ballpark number is everybody.”

Loan repayments will be sent directly to the workers’ banks and “can get people here,” she said. “But it won’t keep people here. Getting them a house will.”

Withy wants to offer low-interest loans to health care workers so they “can own a house at less than what it will cost to buy a regular house. They can then sell it to other essential workers taking care of people in Hawaii.”

Withy said she has vowed not to retire until local health care workers can get their loans paid off, salaries increased and be able to buy homes in Hawaii.

She defines people with Hawaii ties as “if you grew up here. If you went to school here. If your parents are living here. Come on home.”

There are steep financial penalties for those who do not fulfill their two-year commitment. Each month shy of two years would cost them $5,500 a month.

The penalties are intentional.

“We really don’t want people to leave Hawaii,” Withy said.

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