House newcomer hits ground running
It’s been a whirlwind first week for newly minted state Rep. Richard Creagan, who was appointed Jan. 10 to the District 5 post vacated by former state Rep. Denny Coffman.
With committees already up and running, and Thursday’s bill filing deadline looming, Creagan, a Democrat representing Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu, is realistic about his chances of successfully sponsoring major legislation his first year in office.
That doesn’t mean, however, he doesn’t have priorities he’s pursuing. Among them are a replacement hospital for Kona, a four-year university for West Hawaii, expedited citizenship for Marshallese residents in Hawaii and a second water well for Ocean View.
Named to the Consumer Protection &Commerce; Judiciary; Health; Housing; and Human Services committees, Creagan, a physician who also worked in the state Department of Health, thinks health care, especially in West Hawaii, is going to be an important topic in the coming year.
“The bottom line is, Kona Community Hospital needs to be replaced, and how it is replaced is going to be contentious,” Creagan said.
A public-private partnership is the solution most discussed, but there’s been little interest from other hospitals in Hawaii, he said. Banner Health System in 2012 had expressed interest in some Hawaii Health Systems Corp. hospitals on the Big Island and Maui, but legislation would be needed to let the public-private partnership move forward. So far, that hasn’t happened.
A poll released in October showed most of the community on board with getting a new hospital, according to Kona Community Hospital CEO Jay Kreuzer. He was optimistic about the chances of getting such enabling legislation.
Creagan is likely to sponsor a bill requiring pulse oximetry tests, measuring the amount of oxygen in the blood, for newborns. The test, which can detect medical problems, is done as a matter of policy at Kona Community Hospital and others, but he’s been requested to try to codify the practice into law, he said.
With 5 percent of his constituents Marshallese, Creagan, who worked there for the Peace Corps and speaks the language fluently, is also looking to their interests. He’s working on a resolution asking the federal government to somehow create a shorter pathway to citizenship. That will not only help the Marshall Island immigrants living in Hawaii, it will also help the state get its share of federal dollars for their presence in the population, he said.
Plus, he added, it’s the right thing to do for residents of an island that was subject to U.S. nuclear tests after World War II.
“What we did to their islands … We’re asking the federal government to make up for some of the things they haven’t done for the Marshallese,” he said. “Many people, they’ve been here 20 years and they’re still not citizens.”
Although he’s not on the Agriculture Committee, agricultural issues are also important to Creagan, who runs Kiolakaa Mountain Farms in Ka‘u with his wife, Marilyn, a nurse at Kona Community Hospital. He said they’ve run the 100-acre farm for 20 years.
He’d like to see more support for small and family farmers to help them raise enough food for themselves with enough left over to sell to neighbors and at farmers markets. That could be accomplished by making more water and land available for small farmers, and to relax some of the laws restricting the number of dwellings on a farm, he said.
In addition to Kona Community Hospital, making sure the Hawaii Community College at Palamanui campus is built and grows into a four-year university is one of Creagan’s major goals over his legislative career. It’s a long-term project he hopes to see through past the election later this year and into a new term.
“The university might have a slower time-line than the public might want,” Creagan noted.
In the shorter term, Creagan is looking for more improvements for the water well installed a few years ago in Ocean View. The water, while potable, is saltier than it should be, he said.
He’s proposing a small solar-operated desalination unit with a smaller faucet for people to draw drinking water. He also wants to start a second well to increase the water supply, especially as the state plans a school in the area.
“The reality is, as a legislator, you can’t get much done until you’ve been here a year or so,” Creagan said. “I’m very pleased that I was appointed and I’m going to try to do a real good job.”