Bill to select site for new Kona hospital awaits final committee hearing

Bill to select site for new Kona hospital awaits final committee hearing


A bill aimed at providing funding for site selection for a new hospital in Kona faces one more hurdle this legislation.

House Bill 1638 was passed 4-0 by the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness following a hearing Friday afternoon.

The measure would appropriate a currently unspecified amount to the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation (HHSC) to conduct a site assessment to identify and evaluate viable locations for a new hospital site in North Kona.

Discussion about the need for a new hospital to serve residences in North and South Kona has been ongoing for nearly two decades. The area is currently served by the 94-bed Kona Community Hospital constructed in 1974 in Kealakekua.

Jim Lee, HHSC West Hawaii Region CEO, submitted testimony to the Legislature backing the bill.

“Kona Community Hospital’s current facility is nearly 50 years old. The hospital’s aging infrastructure has major deficiencies, with many critical systems in urgent need of repair and renovation. We struggle almost daily with the very real potential that one system failure or another could shut down hospital operations,” he said in written testimony.

Mayor Mitch Roth also weighed in on the bill.

“Enhancing the health and well being of out entire community is a priority of my administration and facilitating access to quality medical services is central to that commitment” his testimony said. “Presently the only available acute care in the area is provided through an aging hospital located 20-30 minutes away from where the population growth has been in Kona over the past three decades.”

Katelyn Shirai is a medical student at John A. Burns School of Medicine and a Hilo native. She provided written testimony from the perspective of a future physician.

“With the growing population in West Hawaii, it is imperative that medical facilities are modernized and expanded to provide much needed health care services to meet the demand of its surrounding community. This measure may also help to recruit and retain health care professionals, helping to close the critical physician shortage on the island of Hawaii,” she wrote. “Born and raised in Hilo, I have experienced first-hand, the effects of the state-wide physician shortage, as well as the lack of services and specialties in health care. As a student at JABSOM, we have learned so much about the health care disparities that so many people in our community face. This measure is a significant first step in addressing health care disparities and promoting health equity.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness Friday opted to leave setting a dollar amount to the Senate Committee Ways and Means, the bill’s last committee stop. A hearing date there had not yet been set as of press-time Tuesday.

“We’re pleased that HB 1638 is moving forward with our amendment request to also include a hospital needs assessment. We’re very grateful to Representative Lowen for introducing this measure for the benefit of our West Hawaii community,” Lee said Tuesday.

In other hospital-related news, the HHSC West Hawaii Regional Board of Directors recently elected new leadership. The board now includes Daniel Rick, PT, as chairperson, Sarah Hathaway, MD, as vice chairperson, and members Frank Sayre, DDS, Dave Hiranaka, MD, Laura Bowman, APRN, Jane Clement, Charles Greenfield, ESC, Tracy Yost and JoAnn Sarubbi, MD.

Sayre, the former-chairperson, previously told West Hawaii Today that a new hospital facility would carry a price tag around $300 million.