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Maui Health System plans to establish urgent care center in West Maui this year

By Staff | Jan 30, 2020

Maui Health System (MHS) Chief Strategy Officer Jim Diegel spoke at the West Maui Taxpayers Association’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 8.

LAHAINA – Maui Health System (MHS) Chief Strategy Officer Jim Diegel said the organization is committed to establishing a presence in West Maui this year, with future plans that include a 24-hour Emergency Department.

MHS, which manages community hospitals and clinics affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, envisions some form of an urgent care center with extended hours in West Maui.

The facility will be staffed by physicians who are board-certified in Emergency Medicine or Primary Care.

“We will, either in partnership with existing players on the West Side or maybe by ourselves, we will have a presence by the end of 2020,” Diegel announced at the West Maui Taxpayers Association’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 8.

Several years in the future, MHS’ second strategic step will be to establish a free-standing, full-service Emergency Department that’s operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“So we believe that the future here for West Maui, absent a full-service hospital, which are very expensive to build and operate… we think that solution is a 24/7 free-standing E.D.,” Diegel explained.

“That will take a little bit of time to put together; we would need to determine where such a facility would need to be sited and go through the appropriate Certificate of Need requests, and then there are sizable capital investments involved with that.”

A MHS analysis estimated it would cost a minimum of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 just to build and prepare the facility.

Based on the size of the West Maui community and reduced volume at the existing Emergency Department at Maui Memorial Medical Center, MHS’ preliminary estimates project an operating loss of around $2,000,000 per year, Diegel said.

Funding and multi-stakeholder partnership options will be explored, and community engagement will be essential to the process, he added.

Even with donated land, plans for the West Maui Hospital and Medical Center have stalled. Diegel said it’s unfortunate that plans for the critical-access hospital in Kaanapali didn’t move forward.

Many small rural hospitals across the U.S. are closing, and many are converting into free-standing Emergency Departments, Diegel said.

These facilities receive patients and stabilize them. They typically have the ability to hold a patient for 24-48 hours before discharging them or transferring them to a full-service hospital.

Diegel has attended community forums with MHS CEO and Hospital Administrator Michael Rembis.

Residents have repeatedly voiced concerns about traffic and access to healthcare on the West Side.

“We have heard over the last many months… specifically your journey to improved access to healthcare and services that you need here on the West Side,” he said.

“I have now experienced what it’s like to be in gridlock coming across 30 (Honoapiilani Highway), both ways… and we’ve heard story after story of really the inability to access the appropriate care that we need here on West Maui.”

Recognizing that emergency transit can be an issue, MHS has taken steps to improve helicopter transportation from West Maui to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

The helicopter won’t fly at night because there is an unlit radio tower in its departure path about 800 feet from the hospital.

MHS is working with American Cellular Tower to install lights on the 186-foot-high tower.

Once it’s lit, the Federal Aviation Administration and Air Traffic Control will approve night flights to and from the hospital’s helipad.

Diegel asked West Maui residents to recommend sites in West Maui where the helicopter can land to pick up patients.