By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS Staff Writer, The Maui News
WAILUKU - State approval has been granted for the proposed West Maui Hospital and Medical Center.
State Health Planning and Development Agency Administrator Ronald Terry faxed his favorable decision to developer Brian Hoyle and Newport Hospital Corp. in California on Friday afternoon.
"We're ecstatic. We're overjoyed," Hoyle said Sunday morning.
Newport Hospital Corp. intends to build a $45 million critical access hospital with 25 acute-care beds and a 40-bed skilled nursing facility on 14.9 acres next to Lahaina Civic Center.
Maui Memorial Medical Center would continue to serve as the primary acute-care facility for the island, and should not, according to Hoyle, be negatively affected by the establishment of a West Maui hospital.
Terry's approval did not come as a surprise given the project's unanimous recommendations from three advisory panels holding public meetings in February and March on Maui.
His written decision follows the last public meeting, held March 4 by the Certificate of Need Review Panel, which includes members with expertise and interest in health care services and facilities statewide.
In his written decision, Terry said he had considered the advice of the CON panel as well as the Tri-Isle Subarea Health Planning Council and the Statewide Health Planning Coordinating Council.
The 16-page decision on the merits states that the certificate criteria had been met. These include relationship to the state health plan, need and accessibility, quality of service/care, cost and finances, relationship to the existing health care system and availability of resources.
The decision will be deemed final within 10 working days of its issuance if no one files for a public hearing for a reconsideration of the decision.
The only critical testimony at the three public meetings came from surgeon Dr. Peter Galpin, who expressed concern that the proposed project might be considered by the general public as a "definitive care" facility when it's not.
Galpin said he believed it would be much more cost-effective to invest in alternative means of transportation to get critically ill or injured patients out of West Maui and into a full-service hospital.
Galpin also asked about what would happen if the West Maui hospital were to fail financially.
Those arguing for the project said the facility is the West Maui community's biggest need and that the lack of medical facilities has resulted in inconvenience and sometimes tragic outcomes for residents who travel about 35 miles or 45 to 65 minutes "on a good day" by automobile or ambulance to get to Maui Memorial.
Hoyle has responded by saying he was prepared to dole out his own money and/or obtain private investors' cash, should financing fall through. As a critical access hospital, Hoyle has said, the facility would benefit from the federal designation which allows as much as 101 percent reimbursements for patients in Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs.
Now that the certificate has been approved, Hoyle said, his next step is to obtain zoning for construction. In addition, he plans to follow up on his initial search for architects and engineers for the buildings while simultaneously working out details with Maui Memorial officials about procedures involving patient care.
"I'm going full speed ahead," Hoyle said.
He said he would be seeking the "most capable and qualified" architects and engineers both locally and on the Mainland. He said he wants the facility to be designed with the Hawaiian culture in mind.
"This is not going to look at all like a facility on the Mainland," Hoyle said.
Target date for completion is March 2012. "If I could it do faster, I will," Hoyle said.
West Maui Improvement Foundation President Joe Pluta said he was still "floating" following the favorable public meetings and recommendations. "I haven't stopped floating," Pluta said.
"It's like the impossible has been made possible."
Pluta, who also serves as president of the West Maui Taxpayers Association, has lobbied for 10 years to get a hospital built in his neighborhood. "To me this is part of God's plan. It's his time and not mine," Pluta said.
He pointed out that the benefits of the project will include investment to the island and jobs in both construction and health care. "Lives are going to be saved. The community is going to be enriched," Pluta said.
Pluta has begun planning for a public celebration sometime between March 25-29 when Hoyle returns to the island. "We'll need a large venue for a big celebration," he said.