North Hawaii hospital may cut women’s center


By ERIN MILLER

Stephens Media

North Hawaii Community Hospital is losing about $750,000 annually on maternal health services, the hospital’s chief executive said in a letter to employees Wednesday afternoon.

A hospital official confirmed Wednesday the hospital was considering restructuring the Waimea Women’s Center.

Just what will happen to the program was unclear Wednesday. A North Hawaii Community Hospital source told Stephens Media the hospital planned to reduce the number of midwives from three to one and move away from the midwife model of care. The problem, the source said, was the cost of maternal health services, particularly with low reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients.

A letter from CEO Ken Wood to hospital employees Wednesday noted the hospital’s maternal health care services “also represents one of our greatest financial challenges. The hard truth is that we cannot maintain the status quo in this service line and make the hospital financially sustainable.”

Further, the letter said, “the high costs of our current (maternal health services) model cannot be sustained given the extremely low reimbursements that payors provide for these services.”

Slightly more than half of the hospital’s maternity patients live outside the hospital’s service area, the letter said. That means, Wood wrote, that the hospital is absorbing about $750,000 in losses each year for patients from outside the hospital’s service area. Kona Community Hospital and Hilo Medical Center get subsidies to offset the maternal health services costs, Wood wrote.

Wood was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“No decision has been made,” said Kerry Howell, vice president of development, marketing and communications. “Discussions are in process relating to restructuring of the Waimea Women’s Center.”

Up next, Wood wrote, will be staff meetings, community meetings and discussions with other island hospitals to “find equitable ways of sharing the financial burden” for maternal health services.

In 2008, the hospital laid off 59 employees from a number of departments, and closed the Kailua-Kona branch of the Waimea Women’s Center. The hospital that year also closed its Heart Brain Center. The decisions raised questions among the hospital’s donors, and the resulting public outcry ended with the hospital’s board of directors being reorganized. Included in that reorganization was the replacement of 10 of the board’s 13 members.

In 2010, the hospital laid off another 10 employees and eliminated an additional three positions, in hopes of saving about $750,000, former CEO John White said.

Wood replaced White in September 2010.

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaiitoday.com.