North Hawaii hospital eyes improvements


HILO — North Hawaii Community Hospital is hoping that 2013 is its turnaround year.

Since opening in 1996, budget deficits have been the norm and the non-profit hospital has had to rely on generous donations to meet its operating expenses.

But that’s all expected to change this year, said Bill Brown, human resources vice president.

Brown, who recently served as interim CEO, said the hospital is undergoing a “turnaround” process aimed at putting itself on solid fiscal ground.

With the help of Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, the hospital has identified several areas for improvement, including materials management and clinical operations.

Brown said no details are yet available but an action plan will be presented to the hospital board next month.

“We do anticipate we will have near-term execution on these so we will begin to hit a positive margin during this year,” he said. “And then grow it further in year’s end.”

No layoffs are expected, Brown said.

To help with the changes, the hospital has hired a new interim CEO.

Lowell Johnson took the position Jan. 14 but is currently on the mainland finishing another job. Brown said he is assisting Johnson with the duties in the meantime; he said Johnson will begin full-time in March and be around through September. Johnson will also be responsible for preparing a national search for a permanent CEO.

Board Chairman Robert Momsen couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. He said in a press release earlier this month that Johnson has been fixing hospital finances for over 35 years.

“We believe his track record and expertise in the healthcare industry are exceptional and will prepare North Hawaii Community Hospital for the coming changes/reductions in Medicare reimbursement,” Momsen said.

Brown said annual deficits have varied widely over the past 17 years, but have averaged around $4 million.

Each year, donations have made up the difference.

“We have a fantastic, generous community and donor population,” he said.

Brown said the hospital would like to instead use donations to fund capital projects, rather than operations. Donors include the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, which provides about $1 million a year, grants and individual donors, said Kerry Hoell, vice president of development, marketing and communications. She said donations fund up to $2 million worth of operating expenses each year.

State Sen. Malama Solomon has submitted a bill to provide the hospital with a grant for that amount.

Brown said the grant would be used for replacing and upgrading equipment and funding some salaries. He added the hospital has enough donations available in case the bill doesn’t come through.