Hawaii lawmakers are steering millions of dollars to facilities on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai for capital improvements.

Two of the Big Island’s main hospitals are in line to receive large cash infusions to expand and upgrade critical services, along with several other neighbor island medical facilities.

Some $50 million in capital improvement project funds are earmarked for the expansion of Hilo Medical Center. And $18 million in CIP funds are headed to Kona Community Hospital, with the goal of averting the hospital’s possible closure.

The funds are contained in the final version of the $19 billion state budget, which is set for final approval this week by the Legislature.

Hilo Medical Center's new vacination site is below Hilo Medical Center at the Arc of Hilo.  Photo: Tim Wright
Hilo Medical Center is set to receive $50 million in capital improvement funds next year. (Courtesy: Tim Wright)

The hospital funding should help alleviate some of the medical shortcomings on the Big Island, according to lawmakers, hospital executives and the governor.

“Hilo Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital provide crucial health care services for the residents of Hawaii island, which as a former ER doc on the island, are super-close to my heart,” Gov. Josh Green said in a statement.

Kona Community Hospital desperately needs to replace its outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning system which regulates temperature and humidity inside operating rooms and other parts of the facility. The hospital also needs to expand its pharmacy so that it can compound oncology medications, among other drugs, according to its chief executive.

Kona Community Hospital is set to receive $18 million if the state budget is approved next week as expected. (Courtesy: Kona Community Hospital)

“We drastically needed this funding so that we could continue to provide this care at the level we are and build upon that,” said Clayton McGhan, regional chief executive of Kona Community and Kohala hospitals in West and North Hawaii island.

Clayton McGhan is regional chief executive of Kona Community and Kohala hospitals. (Courtesy: Kona Community Hospital)

If the money hadn’t come through, the hospital likely would have had to start sending cancer patients to Hilo for care, an hour and a half drive away, a grim situation that was unacceptable, McGhan said.

It might have also had to close its three operating rooms if the HVAC system was not upgraded. Replacement parts for the existing system are increasingly hard to find, he said.

At the Hilo hospital, the funds will initially go toward construction and equipment for an intensive care unit and the expansion of a patient care unit, according to a news release from the state House. A birthing center will come later.

“This appropriation marks the culmination of several years of work to bring this effort to fruition, which began in 2020 when Hilo Medical Center first approached the Hawaii island delegation regarding the need to accommodate the growing demand for services from the East Hawaii Community,” Rep. Mark Nakashima said in a news release. His district includes Hamakua, Kaumana and a portion of Hilo.

Rep. Chris Todd, who represents parts of Hilo and the Puna district, called the funding a “massive win for the future of East Hawaii.”

According to a final environmental assessment published on April 23, the hospital expansion will occur in two phases. The first phase will be a three-story addition that will house an intensive care unit with 19 beds and a patient care unit with 36 beds.

Rendering of the Hilo Medical Center’s planned expansion. (Courtesy: Hilo Medical Center)

Phase two will consist of a three-story building dedicated to a family birthing center. Construction is slated to begin in 2024.

Originally founded in 1897 as a small, 10-bed hospital, Hilo Medical Center is the Big Island’s largest hospital and a level-three trauma center that has undergone numerous expansions and renovations over the years. But the hospital’s capacity has not changed since 1985 despite significant population growth on the island, according to a news release from the hospital.

“The funding for the expansion of Hilo Medical Center is a huge win for our communities in East Hawaii and for Hawaii island,” Chief Executive Dan Brinkman said in a statement. He was unavailable for an interview.

Dan Brinkman is a registered nurse and chief executive of Hilo Medical Center.

Dr. Jerry Gray, who chairs Hilo Medical Center’s East Hawaii Regional Board, said the new funding will help keep patients who need urgent medical care on island instead of having to fly them to Oahu for treatment.

Besides the Hilo and Kona hospitals, Samuel Mahelona Hospital on Kauai is in line to receive $14.9 million in CIP funds for planning, design and construction of a psychiatric unit, $4 million for expansion of the emergency department, $1 million for clinic expansion and $1.3 million for a master plan, according to House Bill 300, the vehicle for the state budget.

Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital will receive $3 million for design, construction and equipment for modernization.

Maui Health System is receiving $33.7 million in fiscal year 2024, which starts July 1, and $6 million the following year for various renovations and expansions to Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital.

Other hospitals in line to receive funding include Kahuku Medical Center on Oahu, Hawaii Health Systems’ Oahu region, and the state psychiatric facility, Hawaii State Hospital.

The psychiatric institution is slated to receive $2.5 million for design and construction of a new facility containing secure and semi-secure stabilization beds, and for general improvements.

Civil Beat’s health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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