Living costs, lack of housing hurt medical recruiting locally | News, Sports, Jobs

Maui Memorial staff gather at the hospital’s helicopter landing pad May 14, 2020 during a flyover to honor their efforts during the pandemic. Recruiting healthcare personnel has long been a struggle for Maui, but has proven particularly difficult in recent years due to the high cost of living, lack of housing options and fatigue amid the pandemic, among other challenges. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Recruiting medical staff to help meet the demands in Maui County has not been easy, with healthcare providers pointing to obstacles such as the high cost of living, shortage of medical students, scarcity of specialized skills, lack of housing options and fatigue.

“It’s hard to find healthcare professionals, to find young people to enter the field — it’s probably the most difficult era I’ve seen in my 40 years in healthcare . The pandemic has not helped us; it made it worse.” Michael Rembis, CEO of Maui Health System, said last week. “A lot of people are leaving the healthcare industry, they’re tired, they’re burnt out and in a time when we need more people.”

The main objective is currently “finding people in Maui to look after people in Maui,” Rembis said, although Maui Health has resorted to recruiting from other islands and the mainland to meet staffing demands for nurses, X-ray technicians, doctors or lab technicians, for example.

“We still have a shortage of medical personnel”, he told the Maui County Council Human Concerns and Parks Committee last week. “Overall, it’s just a huge need.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic became more labor intensive, getting healthcare workers to work in Hawaii was difficult due to the high cost of living or lack of housing options.

Maui Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 unit registered nurse Leigh Ringstad dons protective gear with the help of hospital aide Reynita Franco before entering a patient’s room in May 2020. Recruiting health care workers in small communities like Maui with a high cost of living is a challenge for local health officials, who have sought solutions such as hiring locally trained local nurses.

Even with salaries ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on specialty, Rembis said housing was the biggest barrier deterring people from relocating or temporarily living on Maui.

“I have surgeons that I am trying to recruit on this island to treat us and I have two that cannot come because they cannot find a three or four bedroom house for their families which is under $1.5 million or $2 million,” he said. “My primary concern is that housing will impact our ability to recruit medical professionals to care for us on Maui.”

Administrator Cliff Alakai of the Maui Medical Group said that “we share similar concerns”, noting the need for more psychologists, oncologists and physiatrists, for example.

He highlighted the obstacles created by the “scandalous” number of student loans and debts typically associated with medical school.

“It is difficult to find doctors all over the country. … We don’t get a lot of resumes,” said Alakai. “From our point of view, it seems that not many people get their medical degree.”

Fortunately, the cost to attend the University of Hawaii Maui College’s competitive nursing program is on average much lower than others, said Anne Scharnhorst, professor of nursing and chair of the Allied Health Department.

However, it has been difficult for the school in recent years to produce 40 registered nurses each year because UH-MC does not have enough faculty to teach, Scharnhorst said.

Another obstacle that could affect the island’s ability to recruit medical personnel is the price of doing business and providing services on Maui, such as costs associated with the use of land, infrastructure or supplies. , which means workers’ compensation is generally lower than the rest of the nation, Alakai says.

“We are lucky to have good doctors on Maui, but we need more,” he added. “If we lose one or two in a specialty, we are in really bad shape.”

To meet the demands, Maui Memorial Medical Center began hiring all graduating students in the UH-Maui nursing program five years ago and offered various jobs to the last three graduating classes, which has “made a huge difference” but it’s still not enough, Rembis said.

Maui Health has also created its own training and certification program for practical nurses in various specialties.

“When we can’t find the skills we need, we try to develop our own skills labs and teach and train our own staff and we still don’t have enough,” Rembis said. “We believe we can get there if we continue to train staff and encourage people to enter the profession, but you won’t believe what the biggest challenge I have to do to get healthcare professionals to come to Maui and work, and it’s housing.”

The best-case scenario would be to create a situation where residents studying out of state could return to Maui to work, Alakai said, which could mean offering county debt relief programs or providing options affordable housing for those who practice medicine.

Scharnhorst said UH-MC is working to expand its educational programs to help strengthen the preparation of nursing students in specific areas before being hired at Maui Memorial and is looking to review opportunities for providers. primary care to complete their residency in Maui.

UH-MC has also worked with the state Department of Education for the past three years to conduct outreach activities at local high schools to expose young people to healthcare careers early on. — a nursing aide class is being held this month at Lahainaluna High School, Scharnhorst said. .

“Our greatest goal is to take the citizens of Maui County and place them in jobs where they can have sustainable wages,” she said.

Rembis also said Maui Health is working with the mayor’s office and collaborating with others to find solutions.

Board members at the committee meeting last week considered ways to support Maui’s medical field, such as creating possible housing options for medical staff, and plan to have ongoing discussions to find other solutions.

Committee chair Tasha Kama said the meeting raised “really striking achievements with where we are going in our medical industry.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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