Health is where home is | News, Sports, Jobs
Over the past two years, the pandemic has taught us the limits of our health care capacity. Maui Memorial Medical Center, our only full-service acute care hospital, has 219 licensed beds and 29 critical care beds. During the pre-pandemic period, 90% bed capacity utilization was normal. In crisis conditions, Maui Memorial can expand to 300 beds plus a medical tent with 10 additional beds. Remember that it is much easier to add beds than to find the qualified medical staff needed to care for patients in those beds.
Even if we assume that COVID-19 enters its endemic phase, what happens in the event of a sudden disaster with traumatic injuries? Since 2015, weather-related disasters have increased by 17% in the United States. We know from recent wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tsunami warnings that Hawaii is not immune to such threats.
At first glance, the shortage of medical workers seems to have a simple solution: just hire more healthcare workers. It sounds simple, but it’s not.
Even with growing interest in healthcare careers, job qualifications often include higher education, certification, and/or specialized training. Apart from tuition fees, students have to pay for daily living expenses, which are often out of financial reach. Maui County helps break down these barriers through collaborations and partnerships with Maui Health, University of Hawaii Maui College, Hale Makua and others.
Maui Health offers training programs for entry-level positions and paid training for health care aides and reimburses tuition for those who pay for education and training. Maui Health works closely with the college to recruit as many local nursing graduates as possible.
My Office of Economic Development is partnering with Hale Makua to help fund collaboration with other health care agencies to improve the skills of employed medical workers in addition to placing program graduates in career positions. The goal is to get the people of Maui County to care for the people of Maui County. With enough local talent, we hope to reduce the need to hire temporary talent from elsewhere. Problem solved? No, it’s not that simple.
The long-term shortage of medical personnel throughout Maui County is primarily due to the cost of living, specifically the high cost of housing. The median price of a single-family home now exceeds $1 million, putting homeownership out of reach for most healthcare professionals, including highly trained registered nurses, nurse practitioners, assistants to the doctor and the doctors themselves.
“Build more affordable housing” is offered as a solution, but again, it’s not that simple.
Developing more housing in all price ranges requires the large-scale construction of market-priced housing, affordable rental housing, and multi-family and single-family homes at affordable prices. The supply of developable fee simple land in Maui County is limited and high demand is driving up prices. This scale of development also triggers needs for new infrastructure, including roads, water and wastewater facilities, utilities, schools, parks, and retail to support residents.
That’s why I have two applications pending before the Maui County Council.
The first is for Maui County to enter into a public-private partnership with the developers of Waikapu Country Town. In return for the county assuming responsibility for building the required Waiale Road extension and Central Maui’s new sewage treatment plant, the developers would build an additional 213 labor units for a total of 500. Let’s take advantage of a rare opportunity as Hawaii is set to receive $2.8 billion in federal infrastructure funding over the coming months and years.
Most recently, I applied to the council for permission to transfer 16 lots in the Maui Lani fairways to the non-profit Maui Health Foundation to build workforce housing needed to attract and retain healthcare professionals. health, and 19 lots for non-profit Na Hale O Maui to build labor housing for any qualified person.
We can no longer throw the can on the road.
Quality health care will not happen here unless we make the hard decisions now and strive to solve complex problems without simple solutions.
* “Our County” a column by Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino discusses county issues and county government activities. The column alternates with “3 Minutes of the Council” One week-end out of two.