By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hilo Medical Center has added an important piece to the puzzle as it strives to build a residency program aimed at training successful new doctors — and convincing them to stay on the Big Island.
This week, HMC's Family Practice Residency Program, an expansion of a program offered through the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, welcomed its new director, Dr. Kristine McCoy.
Having served as the associate medical director of El Centro Family Health, a rural family health program in New Mexico, McCoy said she is no stranger to the specific challenges that face Hawaii Island residents as they seek health care services. She worked in the small town of Peñasco, with a population of about 2,300, which is a 2.5- to 3-hour drive from the closest city with a high concentration of medical care providers, she said.
"It's a huge state with a population of only about 2 million people spread out over a large area, which makes it comparable to Hawaii," she said Wednesday.
With its strong focus on building a network of rural primary care physicians, as well as advanced practice nurses and pharmacists, Hilo's residency program seemed like a perfect fit for her, McCoy said.
"I was attracted by the opportunity to develop something new ... and to practice the kind of medicine I do and I love," she said.
"I want to train teams of care. The point is to have a patient-centered team of care with everybody doing their part. That's a really forward-thinking piece of this program and that's what attracted me."
A Stanford University School of Medicine grad, McCoy arrived with her family on the Big Island last week, and is still busy unpacking.
Her husband, Walt, has taken a job as the program evaluation manager for the Hawaii Island Beacon Community, a UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy administered program charged with improving access to health care on the island and funded through a $16 million federal stimulus grant.
The couple has two children, Graeme, 14, a student at Waiakea High, and Ainsley, 11, a student at Waiakea Intermediate.
McCoy's hiring makes it possible for the program, which has been in development since 2006 and has yet to host a class of medical residents, to begin this month the year-long process of accreditation before pursuing applicants, said Boyd Murayama, an assistant hospital administrator and HMC's medical group practice director.
"If all goes well," he said, the residency program could welcome its first class of four residents "no earlier than July 2014."
"If all goes well," he added with emphasis.
Murayama's inclusion of the caveat was likely due to caution born of experience, as Hilo's residency program has seen its share of delays since its inception. Expectations had been that the program's first class might enroll in 2010, but launching as it did on the cusp of the nation's economic meltdown, the program has struggled to find funding.
The state Legislature had initially approved $4 million for the program, but after withholding the first funding installment for fiscal year 2008, Gov. Linda Lingle's administration announced in November 2008 it would not be releasing any of the money because of declining state revenues.
Since then, organizers of the program have sought funding from various federal, state and county sources, as well as funding from grants and individual donors.
All told, this year's budget for the program, including operations at the Hawaii Island Family Health Center where the residents will work, stands at $1.6 million, said Murayama.
A total of $275,000 of that is pegged to cover salaries for McCoy and her residency coordinator, a position that has not yet been filled.
The residency program was also kept from moving forward as HMC administrators worked to fill the director position. Hospitals serving rural markets are at a distinct disadvantage when competing for qualified candidates, said Hilo Medical Center CEO Howard Ainsley.
"It's very difficult to recruit," he said. "Oftentimes, it's a real challenge. It's a costly endeavor, and sometimes you bring them (candidates) out and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't. ... And oftentimes you're also recruiting the spouse. If the spouse likes it, you're better than halfway there. But it's a real challenge. And that's why we're so excited to have Dr. McCoy joining us. We're just so happy she's going to help us get this thing to the next level."
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.