E komo mai and a big mahalo to our new reporter Nicole Pasia. She is covering Hawaii’s health care sector, and as you’ll see below, has gone directly to the source for some great interviews this month. Emily Boerger continues to be the backbone of our reporting team as managing editor. They are part of our now 7-member newsroom covering health care in 15 states.
It’s a little crazy to think about how our little operation has grown. But, it’s happened because of our friends and our readers like you who have given us so much support. So, thank you for all of it.
Now, on to a few things we think are worth watching in Hawaii health care for the month of September, 2021.
With help from Emily Boerger
1. Q&A: Beth Giesting on the pandemic recession
Beth Giesting is the director of the Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center where her work centers on the intersection between health care and policy, with a focus on Hawaii’s low-income and underserved communities. Giesting recently published an analysis of the “pandemic recession,” which details the nuanced impacts of COVID on Hawaii’s job market, affordable housing, and different communities.
In this Q&A, Giesting offers her take on the economic impacts of the Delta variant and the areas where she’d like to see the state offer more support. “People who are low income are the ones who are most likely to be laid off first. And they’re the least likely to have a safety net. So, they’re going to be taking high interest loans using credit cards … maybe becoming homeless, maybe moving into more crowded conditions. It’s not a good situation.”
2. An update from AlohaCare
The latest estimates out of DHS show over 97,000 new Medicaid enrollees since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia caught up with AlohaCare CEO Francoise Culley-Trotman for a conversation on how the health plan has been able to remain nimble and respond to the increased enrollment.
Culley-Trotman also describes the new programs AlohaCare is rolling out as part of its new Med-QUEST contract. These include a new telehealth platform, increased care coordination services, and new initiatives focused on the social determinants of health. Through their Access to Care grants, she says they are awarding new funding to support providers and organizations that focus on improving access for low-income communities.
3. Hospitals may reach “crisis point” in coming weeks
On Friday, Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel warned that the state had surpassed its ICU capacity with 224 adult ICU patients but just 223 registered ICU beds. Hawaii reached a record number of 446 hospitalizations on Friday, but an analysis from Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling predicts Honolulu alone could reach a need for over 500 hospitalizations by Sept. 13.
Medical-grade oxygen is also running low, though state officials announced Friday evening they had secured a consistent supply of oxygen from the mainland. Gov. Ige has warned that more mandates could be on the way – a move that may come as a relief for health care workers.
4. $10 million proposal for health care workforce
Along with a shortage of hospital beds and medical-grade oxygen, Hawaii is also dealing with a staffing shortage. During Friday’s Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 meeting, the DOH and the Healthcare Association of Hawaii detailed a $10 million proposal they are drafting to bring 242 long-term care staff into the state.
During the meeting, committee members questioned whether the DOH was doing enough to address staffing shortages. Health Director Dr. Libby Char says the workforce stressors on the health care system are different now than they’ve been at any other time during the pandemic. “We’re doing all these things all at once, whereas in the past year, it was a sequential effort, so we could shift people around. [We are] trying to do all of them at once right now, so we are having a bit more challenges.”
5. New round of funding to Native Hawaiian health care
Last month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $20 million in funding to support Native Hawaiian health care entities in their response to COVID-19. The funding will go to 6 organizations including Papa Ola Lōkahi, which will receive $4,750,000.
Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels, executive director for Papa Ola Lōkahi, tells State of Reform they hope to show Congress that the $20 million can be used to create lasting, long-term benefits and that “maybe we’re really leveraging it to be $75 million worth of value.” Daniels says award recipients will work with community-based partners to execute contracts with a goal of implementing services by October 1.