Legislators in a joint conference committee opted Wednesday to include a $2 million appropriation in the state’s budget next year for Hilo Medical Center’s fledgling Primary Care Residency Program.
The decision marks the first time funding for the program would be included as a line item in the state’s budget, as opposed to a one-time appropriation through a separate bill, such as the funding of $1.8 million provided to the program last year. A $2.8 million appropriation included in the budget by the state House of Representatives was removed by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means about a month ago.
Organizers say the importance of the inclusion in the budget is symbolic and practical, showing the program has strong support from the state, while also ensuring it will receive strong consideration for future budgets, which are constructed using past budgets as a baseline.
“This is very good news, to have it considered and to be put into a line item in the budget,” said Lori Rogers, executive director of the Hilo Medical Center Foundation, which has struggled to keep the program funded through the years.
“I think it’s wonderful. This establishes it (the program). This is a really big deal.”
The program, which was launched as an effort to confront rural Hawaii’s dwindling population of health care providers, is set to welcome its first class of medical residents this July.
Organizers argued the program would help attract young physicians just beginning their careers and in need of residency experience. Studies have shown up to 80 percent of doctors remain in the cities where they performed their residency training.
The money from the appropriation would be used to partially pay the salaries of the program’s five faculty members, as well as salaries for the program’s four resident physicians and cover various expenses of the program, according to Boyd Murayama, HMC’s assistant hospital administrator and medical group practice director.
Earlier this month, Murayama said the removal of the appropriation from the budget could spell disaster.
“We’re looking right now, and trying to decide whether we can afford to continue the program if we lose the funding,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Kristine McCoy, director of the residency program, said she was thrilled with this week’s decision by legislators.
“I am very relieved that all of the planning and investment that this community has put into putting this primary care training program together will continue to move forward, and that we’ll be able to launch the full program including physician training beginning July 1,” she said.
“We have a wonderful group of young physicians coming to train here in Hilo, and we’re looking forward to their energy and their engagement in the community, and the careers that they will have here over the long run.”
Rogers said the success in funding the program was the result of years of hard work from Big Island legislators and community supporters.
Individual donations from the public, as well as funding provided by Hilo Medical Center, also helped keep the program alive.
“Everyone worked so hard on this,” Rogers said. “Everyone understands now. This (Hawaii’s growing doctor shortage) is a problem that’s not going away. They know that we needed the support, and they came through.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.