Kona Community Hospital is asking for $20 million in repairs

Jan. 30 (Reuters) – On the west side of the island of Hawaii, Kona Community Hospital serves a growing population at a facility that’s nearly 50 years old but desperate for funding for much-needed repairs, its leaders say.

On the west side of the island of Hawaii, Kona Community Hospital serves a growing population at a facility that’s nearly 50 years old but, according to its managers, is desperate for funding to make much-needed repairs.

Clayton McGhan, CEO of Kona Community Hospital, says he’s asking the state for $20 million to address some infrastructure repairs at risk of closure that are critical to keeping operations running.

Among the most critical is an expansion of the pharmacy, including a compounding facility so that medicines for cancer patients can be mixed. This is necessary for regulatory compliance, he said, and without them the hospital would not be able to continue caring for hundreds of West Side patients with cancer.

In addition, the hospital needs to repair its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system to keep its operating theaters running with air-conditioned controls. If one of the chillers were to fail, the hospital would be unable to provide life-saving trauma care or surgical procedures.

This would put the hospital at risk of losing its Stage III Trauma designation, and those patients may have to travel to Hilo or off the island.

In addition, there are aging power systems and plumbing issues that need to be addressed.

“We have things that keep us up at night,” McGhan said. “They have the potential to shut down or reduce the services we offer to the community.”

The hospital, a federally funded facility operated under Hawaii Health Systems Corp. has applied for $26.2 million in capital improvement plans for urgent hospital upgrades and repairs over the past three fiscal years, but has received only about half of that amount, $14.4 million.

In 2022, the hospital also received $2.5 million in funding to plan and design improved oncology services.

The hospital, built in Kealakekua in 1974, was able to use funds to renovate bathrooms and repair its sewage treatment plant. And it’s made a series of quick fixes that could be viewed as a “pavement patch” approach, McGhan said, but they don’t solve long-standing needs to upgrade and replace specific equipment and systems.

“We were chronically underfunded and essentially unable to address these long-standing problems,” he said.

This year, Kona Community Hospital is seeking $20 million over two years to cover these infrastructure projects at risk of closure.

Like hospitals across the state, Kona Community Hospital was quite busy, serving a population of more than 90,000 on the west and north sides of the island of Hawaii. The hospital has 94 inpatient care beds, nine of which are in the intensive care unit.

Although the hospital was not overcrowded with COVID-19 patients, it was operating at full capacity.

“We’ve been extremely busy,” McGhan said. “We thought we would have a little reprieve with COVID-19, but actually it was the opposite. We have more patients who are sicker coming to our hospitals.”

Many patients are sicker, possibly due to years of deferred treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

At the same time, about 30 of the 94 inpatient care beds are occupied by wait-listed patients—patients waiting to be admitted to a long-term care facility. But these facilities, which are understaffed, cannot accept new patients.

Like other hospitals, the Kona community faces staffing challenges and a shortage of nurses.

Hiring staff is difficult on the island of Hawaii, particularly due to the lack of affordable housing, he said. The hospital has offered jobs for those who need certain skills, but when they see how much it costs to live in the area, they change their minds – and some have even canceled their contracts.

On the east side of the island, Hilo Community Hospital, also part of HHSC, is asking the state for $50 million for the long-awaited implementation.

During a call Friday on the Honolulu Star advertiser’s livestream program, McGhan said he continues to meet with state legislators and is confident the state will pull through with the funding.

“We understand there are a lot of requests,” he said, “but we hope they will make health care their #1 priority in all of their requests.” It affects everyone from top to bottom.”