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Nonprofit hopes to understand rural health care

LIHU‘E — A survey released to the community last week aims to understand the unique health care challenges of the neighbor islands.

The “Access to Care” assessment asks for residents’ thoughts on the impact of the pandemic on personal health, the ease of accessing health care and their opinions on telehealth services.

The results will be shared with policymakers, health care systems, and social service providers so they can identify gaps in care and affect change across the state.

“By doing a statewide assessment we have a stronger voice and we can build a neighbor island network and get the health care services our community deserves,” said Lisa Rantz, president of the Hawai‘i State Rural Health Association. “Once we have these results, we have a tremendous opportunity to go to our policymakers and say ‘here’s what your constituents say and here’s what you need to do going forward,”

The survey — organized by the nonprofit Community First Hawai‘i — is a collaboration between Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation, Hawai‘i Medical Association, state Department of Health, Hawai‘i State Rural Health Association, Hawaii Medical Service Association and Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center.

While the results for Kaua‘i are not in yet, a pilot survey on the Big Island may hint at some of the health trends on the Garden Isle.

“Telehealth is good if you have access to the internet and if you have good broadband service. Many of our rural areas do not,” said Rantz, who identified this as a major trouble spot in the Hawai‘i Island survey.

She also identified that many patients on the Big Island had put off routine examinations and even major surgeries during the pandemic, leading to a “huge backlog” of patients needing care now. This problem is made worse by the fact that neighbor islands tend to have a shortage of health care professionals.

Pandemic-related budget cuts have exacerbated these problems further — for instance, cuts to state mental health care funding at the onset of the pandemic led to a reduction of eight positions on Kaua‘i.

The project hopes to pull the voices of both the community and of healthcare providers, focusing on both the areas that need improvements but also the “bright spots,” things that are going well and could be expanded.

One finding from the Big Island survey, Rantz said, was that the General Excise Tax proved highly burdensome for small health care providers, and that many providers considered reducing hours, leaving medicine or moving to the mainland.

Additionally, Rantz said that the survey showed patients worry about surprise charges for procedures at the doctor.

“I expect to see similar results across our neighbor islands,” Rantz said.

Based on the results of the survey, the group will conduct a project on a highlighted issue on each island.

Each week, $100 gas gift cards will be given out in a randomized drawing for survey participants.

“Everyone’s voice matters,” said Randy Kurohara, executive director of Community First in a release. “When you fill out the survey, it’s a chance to call out the needs you see and the gaps you want fixed — for yourself, your family and your community. It’s a chance to get the resources your neighborhood, town, district or community needs.”

Kaua‘i residents can take the anonymous survey at the following link:
Source: The Garden Island

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