Labor union balks at Hawaii hospital privatizations

A labor union representing workers at three Hawaiian hospitals has filed suit to block a privatization effort, according to Pacific Business News.

Hawaii's United Public Workers union is currently seeking an injunction against the privatization of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. The entity currently operates three hospitals, Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital. The union, which represents 11,000 employees across the state, has claimed that a takeover by private operators would violate the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution by making it difficult to enforce worker pacts that are currently in place. The union has suggested that private operators would cut jobs.

"We already see how layoffs at several of our hospitals are not only affecting those who work there but also patients and their families, as well as diminishing our ability to care for an aging population," Dayton Nakanelua, union state director, said in a statement. "We have to keep in mind that healthcare is about people, and people should be the No. 1 priority."

Louisiana, which recently privatized several of the hospitals operated by its state university healthcare system, has had struggles of its own. The privatized hospitals have claimed ongoing revenue shortfalls, while the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services initially rejected the plan as a vehicle for leveraging additional payments from the Medicaid program. Even the state's own treasurer said it would not save any money.

The three Hawaii hospitals reported an operating loss for fiscal 2014 of $43.4 million, and are projected to lose $46.3 million during the current fiscal year, prompting the search for a private operator. Kaiser Permanente Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific Health have both expressed interest in taking over their operations, according to Pacific Business News.

To learn more:
- read the Pacific Business News article 
- check out the union statement (.pdf)