- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Gov. David Ige has intervened in a legislative plan to allow Maui’s regional hospitals to be taken over by a private entity.

The state House of Representatives was poised to approve the bill Tuesday that would pave the way for a public-private partnership between the public Maui Regional Health Care System and the private health care provider Hawaii Pacific Health.

But instead of passing the bill, legislative leaders joined Ige in a news conference less than an hour before the scheduled vote and announced they would work together to finalize the details.

“We all agree that this issue is too important to leave to just the normal confrontation,” Ige said, referring to the conference committee process where heated negotiations take place during the final weeks of the session.

Ige did not say why he decided to intervene, but the Senate had recently removed employee protections against layoffs from the bill.

“The House was prepared to agree to the Senate draft, and I personally had some concerns, and I requested a meeting with the Speaker. We talked about it,” Ige said, declining to elaborate furer. “I don’t think we want to get into the explicit details,” he said.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union that represents about 900 workers in Maui’s public hospitals, has opposed the bill from the outset.

“We are deeply concerned about what will happen to the approximately 900 HGEA nurses and other staff who work in the Maui region along with several hundred other public workers if the system is turned over to a private operator,” said Randy Perreira, executive director of HGEA, in a statement.

Hawaii Pacific Health remains committed to moving forward and supports the bill in its current state, said spokeswoman Kristen Bonilla, in an email.

The Maui region is facing a $28 million deficit in the upcoming year, including funding proposed by the Legislature. If the bill doesn’t pass, the hospital will be faced with tough choices, said Wesley Lo, regional CEO of Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“I think that we would be forced to look at significant expense reductions, which could mean layoffs in staff as well as cuts in services,” Lo said. “Maui Memorial is the only acute care hospital on the island of Maui for a very vibrant population, and it’s going to affect the community in many ways.”

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and House Speaker Joseph Souki said they welcome the governor’s input.

The Maui hospital system has been conducting due-diligence on the proposed deal for the past six months and is more than halfway through the process. If the bill passes, an agreement could be finalized in the fall, Lo said.

“What we’re trying to do is provide options, instead of just asking for more and more money,” Lo said.

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