Health provider task force efficacy questioned


A private mainland health care provider remains interested in a possible takeover of Hawaii Island public hospital facilities, according to Hawaii Health Systems Corp. — but legislators will have to clear the way if such a public/private partnership is to occur.

Last month, the state legislature deferred a bill that would have established a task force to study the effects of such a partnership.

Initially, House Bill 1483 had been set up to open the door for the hospital system’s privatization, but the bill was watered down as it went through the legislative process, said Avery Chumbley, chairman of HHSC’s Corporate Board.

“It morphed as it went through public hearings. It morphed into this task force, which was redundant,” he said. “We’ve already gone through that.”

Chumbley said that HHSC regional boards have already studied the issue of public-private partnerships and done the heavy lifting, so a task force would waste valuable time. He added that an independent 2009 study prepared by Stroudwater Associates for the Legislature had already recommended a public-private partnership as a means of dealing with HHSC’s budget woes.

“This option rests upon the conclusion that as a system HHSC by itself is insufficient in scale to move to the highest levels of performance, and that so many of its basic systems and infrastructure are in need of major updating that it will take the in-place resources of a more advanced system to help it catch up,” the report stated.

HHSC’s regional boards ultimately submitted testimony to legislators withdrawing their support of HB 1483, and the measure was deferred.

In a phone interview this week, state Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, said he was disappointed that the bill didn’t make it through.

“My hope had been to still pass out the task force to work out the details in the off-session,” he said.

Green added that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office has gotten involved, helping to bring the various parties together to discuss the situation.

“He’s set up some meetings, some of which have occurred already, that involved the head of HHSC and the CEOs of the other hospitals, as well as some of the union leadership to discuss solutions going forward,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office confirmed that there had been a meeting held in April, but she was not able to provide details about what was discussed or who was present.

Green said he was glad to see the governor’s office tackling the issue, but that he would have preferred a task force.

“One of the reasons to have a formal task force set up by statute is that it all has to be handled under sunshine provisions and you can take outside testimony from the community, which is my overall preference. But as long as the work gets done, I trust it will be an open dialogue,” he said.

Among the questions that need to be answered are what kind of a state subsidy would be offered to a private partner, what kind of workforce changes would occur, and what kind of partner Hawaii needs, Green said.

Last summer, HHSC entered into talks with Phoenix-based Banner Health Systems about the possibility of leasing and taking over operations at eight health care facilities on Hawaii Island, Maui and Lanai.

Supporters of the partnership say that Banner would bring plenty of expertise and resources to the table, with money to spend on facility upgrades, as well as providing “greater economies of scale” in acquisition of supplies and equipment.

But before such a partnership can take place, lawmakers must clear away some legal hurdles that stand in the way.

A number of bills were proposed during the session to address that question, but none made it through to the end.

“Banner has not entirely given up at this point,” Chumbley said on Wednesday. “At the conclusion of the session, they said ‘We still are interested, but you folks need to get governance structure and the statutory authorizations, the legal process, in place.’ That would allow them to come back and enter into some kind of partnership.”