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Queen’s, NHCH formalize affiliation

December 18, 2013 - 10:18am

It is official: North Hawaii Community Hospital is now part of The Queen’s Health Systems.

The Waimea-based nonprofit hospital and The Queen’s Health Systems, corporate parent of The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, officially entered into an affiliation agreement following a system board meeting Monday. The affiliation is effective Jan. 1 and officials at both hospitals expect a smooth transition without any disruption of service to the community.

“This will without question improve the quality of care given to people on the Big Island,” Bob Momsen, North Hawaii Community Hospital board of directors chairman, said Tuesday. “We think we’ve done a good job over the past 17 years, but we think we can do a better job with the guidance and leadership of Queen’s.”

Momsen and Art Ushijima, president and CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems, said the affiliation will improve the Waimea hospital’s financial stability, quality and safety of care, issues of management and operation, as well as physician and specialist recruitment and retention.

The financial stability of the hospital was among the most important aspects of the affiliation.

“Our priority is to create a relationship of cooperation and trust with NHCH and the people of North Hawaii,” said Ushijima. “Given NHCH’s challenging financial situation, an immediate focus is to stabilize the hospital so that it may start to focus on programs and services for its growth and development — a process which was started under Hookahua, NHCH’s performance improvement program.”

Momsen said the hospital has operated at an annual loss of $4 million for years. To reduce those losses, the hospital, as part of the improvement program, this year hired Huron Consulting Group, which identified potential savings and revenue sources that, even without an affiliation with The Queen’s Health Systems, he said, would have ensured the hospital broke even in 2014.

“We’ve never been able to operate at a profit or break even,” Momsen said. “This year, because we had no way of knowing if Queen’s would accept us, we hired a consulting group so that if Queen’s had turned us down we would operate independently at a break-even next year.”

Hand-in-hand with financial stability comes recruitment of personnel, Momsen said. The need for doctors came up many times during community forums held by both entities during the past months.

“Financial stability is very important for recruiting doctors, recruiting nurses, recruiting staff, management,” he said.

With financial stability, “we would be able to successfully recruit physicians to practice in the community,” added Ushijima, who noted the two entities are currently assessing how to best address the community’s immediate needs.

When asked if North Hawaii Community Hospital might see traveling specialists from the system’s other affiliates, like Kaiser Permanente Hawaii uses on Hawaii Island, Ushijima said he could not comment on specifics, but did note the two entities do not want to duplicate, but rather “supplement and complement” services already provided in the area.

“That’s certainly one of those things that’s on our agenda to address with the medical staff at North Hawaii,” Ushijima said about the potential for traveling specialists.

North Hawaii Community Hospital will keep its name and brand despite the affiliation, said Ushijima. It’s likely a tagline such as “a Queen’s Health Systems Company,” will be added to notate the affiliation with Queen’s. That is what occurred at Molokai General Hospital when it became affiliated with Queen’s in 1987, he said.

Though the affiliation will require some change to North Hawaii Community Hospital’s board of directors, Ushijima said the “majority” of the members will remain Big Island residents with the exception of two Queen’s members in addition to Ushijima and the chairman of The Queen’s Health Systems, both of whom do not vote.

All of the hospital’s 350-plus employees will be retained, Ushijima said. Momsen said the hospital has currently some 90 nurses and approximately 65 doctors, of which 18 are directly employed by the hospital. He expects that number to increase in the coming years following the affiliation with Queen’s.

“My personal expectation is that our ability to serve community grows because of the relationship with Queen’s. We will increase services provided, which will end up increasing the employment base,” Momsen said.

North Hawaii Community Hospital and The Queen’s Health Systems announced on June 25 that the two were exploring a formal agreement to improve health care on Hawaii Island. The agreement builds upon a clinical affiliation with The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu that started in 2005 to help streamline the transport of cardiac patients needing care beyond what NHCH can provide.

The affiliation still requires approval from “multiple state agencies,” said Cedric Yamanaka, Queen’s spokesman, who was unable to provide which agencies are involved.

“This is a very great day for the people of North Hawaii, it will make a big difference to the people of the Big Island,” said state Sen. Josh Green, who on weekends is a physician at Kohala Hospital and noted the importance of affiliation between facilities to provide care quickly to patients. “All the people on the Big Island are going to benefit from this relationship.”

North Hawaii Community Hospital opened in May 1996. The nonprofit 33-bed acute care hospital is based in Waimea and serves an estimated 30,000 part- and full-time residents in locales spanning North Hawaii, from Paauilo to Waikoloa.

The Queen’s Health Systems is a nonprofit established in 1985 to provide expanded health care capabilities to the people of Hawaii and the Pacific Basin. The system, which employees 5,000 people, includes The Queen’s Medical Center, The Queen’s Health Care Centers, Queen Emma Land Co., Queen’s Development Corp., Queen’s Insurance Exchange Inc., and Molokai General Hospital. The system has ownership interest in Care Resource Hawaii, Hamamatsu/Queen’s PET Imaging Center and Diagnostic Laboratory Services Inc.

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