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Hawaii Legislature considers privatizing hospitals

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 15, 2013 at 8:09 pm •  Published: February 15, 2013

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Legislature is considering a proposal to allow regional hospitals to be bought by private companies.

The idea has been talked about in the past. Officials at Maui Memorial have talked about privatizing the hospital for years.

But with Banner Health knocking, change could happen sooner rather than later. The Phoenix, Ariz.,-based nonprofit health care organization with 23 hospitals in seven states is interested in running hospitals on Maui and the Big Island.

The Senate Health Committee approved the bill Wednesday, adding several amendments, including one that requires legislative and regional approval of any hospital takeover.

Many residents of the neighboring islands are worried about what privatization would mean given the proposed bill.

Carol Nakahara, a registered nurse at Kona Hospital for 25 years, says she's scared of losing her job.

"If they take over, they will most likely terminate all employees in Kona Hospital, and re-hire only those who pass pre-employment requirements," she wrote in testimony to the Senate health committee this week.

But Maui Sen. Rosalyn Baker said job loss is the opposite of what she expects from the potential shift to private health care.

"I expect there will be more jobs as a result of this because we'll have more resources to do more things on Maui and the Big Island," Baker told The Associated Press.

She says the current health care system is fiscally unsustainable and that allowing Banner Health to take over would not only improve but also expand the care that's available.

The deluge of testimony from Maui and Big Island residents worried about their jobs, along with pressure from union leaders, led the Senate Health Committee to strike language in the bill stating that the hospital's employees will become private if a private company takes over.

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