By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hilo Medical Center will welcome two Banner Health Systems Corp. executives next week, as the mainland nonprofit company continues its bid to acquire eight public Hawaii hospitals.
Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President Dr. John Hensing will join Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Ronald R. Bunnell in sharing Banner’s health care philosophy and answering questions from area clinicians, said HMC Chief Executive Officer Howard Ainsley.
“Both of these individuals are very impressive,” he said. “They will be coming to talk to our board and our medical staff. We’re still in an educational format, and they’ll be trying to have a dialogue with us. They’ll be meeting with union people, and I think also there will be opportunities to meet with various legislators.”
The executives will explain to employees and administrators at Hilo Medical Center about Banner’s plans for dealing with health care reform issues, and will share their ideas on how to increase efficiency and produce better outcomes for patients, he said.
“This will let doctors have a better feel for how they run their business,” Ainsley said. “How they’re being successful, what their plans are for health care reforms, and how we can best resolve issues.”
Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the company which currently operates 12 facilities across the state, including HMC and Kona Community Hospital, confirmed last month that it had been in talks with the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Banner Health since July. HHSC officials maintain that they are still in the very early stages of talks with Banner, and much remains to be explored before any kind of deal can be struck.
HHSC Board Chairman Avery Chumbley said last month that Banner is looking to take over operations at HMC, Kona Community Hospital, Kohala Hospital, Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua, and Ka‘u Hospital on the Big Island, as well as Lanai Community Hospital, Maui Memorial Medical Center, and Kula Hospital.
The plan would be for Banner to lease the properties from HHSC in a public-private partnership, he said.
Ainsley said Monday that such a partnership could help HHSC in dealing with many of the issues that have served to drive up costs, with which the company has struggled. For instance, he said, as a civil service employer, HHSC has little control over the labor costs it must pay.
“Civl service means additional costs attributed to public hospitals,” he said. “It means labor costs are negotiated by someone other than myself. I’m not the one at the table when it comes to the table. HHSC only as one vote at the table on these labor cost issues. When you start looking at our costs (as a whole), all these factors come into play.”
The possibility of a partnership with Banner has so far elicited unhappy reactions from employee unions. The Hawaii Government Employees Association has called Banner “anti-union,” and questions whether the acquisition could mean layoffs for employees.
Dr. Christopher Flanders, executive director of the Hawaii Medical Association, said Monday that his organization had not yet formed an opinion on how the partnership with Banner might affect Hawaii’s health care facilities.
“We’re not sure how far along the procedure is, but we may have more to say as we go forward and see what impact it may have,” he said.
The executives are scheduled to meet with doctors in Hilo Medical Center’s conference rooms on Tuesday, Feb. 12, and Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.