|Ka`u Hospital & Rural Health Clinic could be privatized if bills pass the Hawai`i State Legislature this session. Photo by Julia Neal|
Another facility used by Ka`u residents that could also be acquired by Arizona company Banner Health is Hilo Medical Center. Legislation in both the state Senate (SB 1306) and the state House of Representatives (HB1483) would allow the transition from management by the non-profit Hawai`i Health Systems Corporation to Banner. The proposed legislation would allow any of the Hawai`i Health Systems Corporation regions or their health facilities to transition to non-public status. The transition would occur through the sale, lease, or transfer of assets, except for real property, which would only be transferred by lease.
All liabilities of the transitioning region or facility that were transferred to HHSC upon its creation by Act 262, SLH 1996, and all collective bargaining contracts negotiated by the State, however, would remain the responsibility of the State. Subject to legislation appropriation, the State would be required to continue funding operating support subsidies and capital improvements for any of the new entities.
|Kalbert Young, state Budget Director|
Young also wrote that many buildings at the medical facilities were financed with tax-exempt general bonds and that a transfer to a private entity could make the bonds no longer qualify for tax exemption. In addition, some facilities are on ceded lands, for which payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have not been made as the health care serves Hawaiians and other members of the public. Should the facilities be privatized, OHA could demand payments.
The board of the Hawai`i Health Systems Corp. took no stand on the issue, saying it plans to review the bill or come up with a board position, and that its supports “continued discussions with private entities for potential partnerships and relationships.”
|Randy Perreira heads the HGEA|
United Public Workers state Director Dayton M. Nakanelua, who represents many health care facility employees, submitted opposition testimony. He said the bill “undermines prior commitments made to public employees, eliminates the merit principle, and nullifies the right to engage in collective bargaining.” He wrote that Hawai`i Health Systems Corp. was created by the legislature in 1994 “to provide better health care for all the people of the State…by freeing the facilities from unwarranted bureaucratic oversight.” He said it was understood that Hawai`i Health Systems Corp. would maintain a “corporate-wide hospital personnel system …..and that no employee of the State having tenure with the state would suffer any loss of seniority, prior service credit, vacation, sick leave or other employee benefits or privileges as a consequence.” He said that a decision by the Hawai`i Supreme Court determined that “privatization violates the constitutionally established merit principle” under the Hawai`i constitution and eliminates “openness, merit, and independence” in public administration, which is promoted by the constitution.
Hawai`i Government Employees Association union chief Randy Perreira also wrote in opposition: “The Hawai`i Health Systems Corporation operates a system of community hospitals primarily on the neighbor islands. That network provides a safety net of health care, with a Hawai`i State Constitutional mandate to ensure access to health care for all citizens. In many instances, care is provided without payment, a cost that our state taxpayers bear to ensure care for all.
“To preserve the safety net for the neighbor islands the system must remain intact. If one or more regions were to withdraw from the system, it will create instability through the whole system, both financially and in the types of and mix of services available to local communities. A fragmented health care system is a disservice to Hawai`i's people and threatens the long-term viability of the entire health care delivery system. Further, the effort to divest our state from being involved in our health care, and put that responsibility on an Arizona-based provider is short-sighted and not in the best interest of our communities. It is unthinkable that our state will be better off with health care decisions for neighbor islanders being made out of state.”
Numerous testimonies from workers opposing the bill and many testimonies asking for the partnership to improve health care are posted on the www.capitol.hawaii.gov website under SB1306 and HB1483.
|Pahala Volunteer Firefighters fought a string of fires around the village that damaged eucalyptus, coffee and macadamia |
and threatened the town. Photo by Julia Neal
Proper firefighting gear is expensive and “many of our volunteers in Kaʻū are not rich. The county tried to provide equipment, but has a limited budget. A good pair of boots costs $300,” she said. Using fundraiser money the Discovery Harbour volunteer fire brigade was able to purchase seven 3M full-face respirator masks.
ʻO Kaʻū Kākou has donated three 3M full-face respirator masks to the Pāhala volunteer fire department and three to the Nāʻālehu volunteer department. The masks cost $1250. “It will help with health issues..,.not having to breath the smoke,” said Pāhala volunteer fire captain Ron Ebert. Breathing smoke - “you just start coughing and it zaps your energy. Breathing clean air, you can do a better job.,” he said. Mask shields also keep ash off of faces of the firefighters.
|Fundraising has led to the purchase of respirators to|
protect volunteer firefighters.
VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS ARE NEEDED. Pāhala and Nā’ālehu have three volunteer firefighters and Discovery Harbour has four. Ocean View also has fewer than a full company of 12. Discovery Harbour volunteer captain Terry James reported that during the huge dual fire blaze in Pāhala this past June, “more volunteers were needed.
Said Ebert, “Volunteers are essential. They go out in very unpleasant conditions and fight fires to save people’s property. I can’t say enough about the people who do it.” He urged people to join “if you have the desire to serve your community in a very special way.”
The mean age of Kaʻū volunteers runs between 55- and 60-years-old, said James. While the ranks would love young volunteers to join, the departments are calling to any male or female over the age of 18 to sign up. Volunteers need to be U.S. citizens and have valid driver’s licenses. At training sessions, third Tuesday of each month, potential applicants can meet other volunteers and learn more on what is involved. Those interested can call one of the Kaʻū volunteer captains: Pāhala Ron Ebert, 928-0027; Nāʻālehu Wade Baji, 929-9923; Discovery Harbour Terry James, 895-8133; and Ocean View Mack Goddard, 939-7602.
VOLCANO VARIETY SHOW takes place this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Volcano Art Center’s Ni`aulani Campus in Volcano Village. Acts include sketch, comedy, music and dance and are appropriate for all ages. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 children under 17. Call 967-8222.
A NIGHT OF IMPROV is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Ocean View Community Center. Alohaha’s Improv-Sketch-Comedy troupe performs a series of improvisational games and original comedy sketches. $10 tickets are available at the door at 7 p.m. for adults 18 years old and over. For more, call 345-2571 or email email@example.com.
WOMEN’S ENERGY WORKSHOP takes place Sunday, March 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Shizuno Nasu’s Volcano Village Dance Studio. The workshop features yoga and dance meditation with Nasu and Debra Serrao focusing on the Sacred Feminine. $55 includes lunch; space is limited. Register with Debra at 985-7545 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Shizuno at 967-8574 or email@example.com.