Hawaii Gov. David Ige emphasizes public/private partnerships for homelessness in State of State

Hawaii Gov. David Ige detailed his priorities for the year in his recent State of the State Address. Increasing affordable housing, expanding early learning, improving transit, protecting public lands, and adjusting the TAT tax were all prominent themes, along with addressing homelessness in the state.

Topics touching healthcare were woven throughout; beginning with his opening remarks, which included praise for the state’s general health.

“Hawaii is, once again, ranked the healthiest state in the nation,” Ige said. “That’s due, in part, because our health care coverage is among the broadest and most enduring.”

He named two public health initiatives among the issues on which he said Hawaii has led the nation.

“In 2018, we were the first state to ban pesticides containing chlorpyrifos to protect our children’s health,” Ige said. “And the first in the world to ban certain sunscreens to protect our environment.”

Public/private partnerships to address homelessness, though, took center stage in terms of the governor’s healthcare priorities. Ige first reflected on the progress made in recent years.

“Together, we have reduced our homeless population for two consecutive years, for a total reduction of 18 percent,” Ige said. “This includes decreases in every county as well as decreases in key homeless subgroups, such as families, children, and veterans.”

Moving forward, Ige’s vision for addressing the issue seems to be focused on a growing role for initiatives in the private sector.

Ige specifically honored The Queen’s Medical Center’s Care Coalition efforts, asking Dr. Daniel Cheng, who heads the coalition, members of the coalition team, and Queen’s CEO Art Ushijima to stand for a round of applause.

“Queen’s Medical Center has seen what the impact of homeless patients has had on its overall mission,” Ige said. “Without appropriate housing, recovery was a hit-and-miss affair, and many became repeat patients with prolonged stays. Hospital officials knew that if they didn’t treat the whole patient, that the process would become frustratingly repetitive for both the patient and the doctor. And that’s why they became the first hospital in the nation to place its most medically fragile homeless patients into housing as part of the recovery process. In the last year and a half, the Queen’s Care Coalition team has worked with 112 individuals, placing 75 percent of them into stable housing. The hospital estimates the program has generated more than $5 million of savings, and at the same time lightened the burden on the emergency rooms and the ambulances.”

Ige also announced that Lt. Gov. Josh Green would be the new “point person on leveraging private sector partnerships” to address homelessness.

Green, a physician, responded to the announcement in a statement that laid out a partial vision. He mentioned Ohana Zones that allow for housing on state lands, and projects like the Punawai Rest Stop in Iwilei.

“Eventually, that same building will include a health clinic, long term medical respite beds, and permanent housing units,” Green said. “This model, which we call the H4 model, is a public/private partnership that can be replicated all over the state in areas where there is need, and that is going to help a lot of people.”