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As Maui Hospitals deal unravels Wes Lo explains the outlook

The great Maui hospitals deal which only a week ago looked like “All systems GO,” seems suddenly on track to completely unravel and leave Maui facing major cuts in hospital beds and medical services.

In an interview this morning (9/1) Wes Lo, Maui Memorial Medical Center’s CEO looked tired and strained as he explained yesterday’s hospital board decision calling for closing 8 ICU beds and 12 surgical beds, with cuts of as many as 30 more beds projected for the future if no resolution is reached in the transition to management by Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.

The transition has been beset by a series of delays and political and legal wrangling involving the office of the governor, the legislature, Hawaii’s two leading public employee unions (the HGEA and the UPW), as well as Kaiser management.

At issue are Maui’s three public hospitals: MMMC, Lanai Community Hospital, and Kula Hospital. MMMC is Maui’s only acute care hospital with just over 210 beds. Legislation passed in 2015 called for the transition of the three facilities to Kaiser management by July 1 of this year, a deadline that was previously extended several times.

Lo said that though finances are an issue, the primary concern is “public safety,” adding that with 401 of the approx 1500 hospital positions vacant, the slack is being taken up with “temporary hires and travel staffing.” These are workers he said, who are often unfamiliar with the hospital and its procedures.

Lo said that “by law” there will be public meetings “within the next four to six weeks” to announce and discuss the cuts and legislative notification is also necessary. Lo did not know the exact dates of the meetings or where they would be held.

“Up until last week,” he said, “I thought we were on track to make the Kaiser transition and expand.” (Last week Kaiser issued a letter to Gov. Ige saying they could not continue to postpone the assumption of management duties and said they were pushing the date back to July 1, 2017, the day after all public worker contracts at the Maui hospitals expire).

Lo has said many times in the past that he did not take the job as Maui’s hospital chief to “preside over its demise,” and hinted that he may soon ask for the help of the public in demanding that the “stalls” come to an end and the projected cuts be reversed. “I need to think about it,” he said.

As for himself and his own future, Lo said he first he thought his duties would end on July 1 of this year, the date originally set for the transfer to Kaiser, and then, when there were unexpected delays, he extended to Nov. 1. For him at least there may be no further extensions, “I need to get on with my life.” Lo said his future plans are not yet firm but that he has been offered “other opportunities.”

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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