In mid-December, every mailbox on Molokai received a postcard from the Molokai Community Health Center offering an “aloha” to their two departing doctors, Dr. Traci Stevenson and Dr. David Liu.
Dr. Liu, who also served as medical director of Molokai’s only federally qualified health center, left in December. Dr. Stevenson — who arrived in February of 2011 as an osteopathic specialist — plans to leave Jan. 20.
The postcard reassured Molokai residents that it will “continue to provide high quality medical services during this time of transition, and that there will be no gaps in services caused by the departure of these two providers.”
MCHC Executive Director Desiree Puhi said she has been “actively recruiting” new doctors and has even made offers to secure two new doctors by Jan. 20. Puhi could not release the names but said both doctors were born and raised in Hawaii and will live on Molokai if they accept the contract offers.
Not living on Molokai was one of the problems with Dr. Liu. His contract as medical director was not renewed, in part, said Puhi, because he was commuting weekly from his home on Oahu and only stayed on Molokai Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Puhi said it was “worth a try” to work with an off-island doctor but admitted that the health center, “needed someone who is part of the community, sharing the responsibility and the passion.”
Dr. Stevenson is leaving because her husband was offered a job in Sonoma, Calif.
“It’s unfortunate both are leaving at same time,” said Puhi. “That’s the way business is for community health centers across the nation. We can’t compete with Queens (Health Center) and mainland health centers.”
Besides the turnover with physicians, the MCHC also is experiencing other growing pains as it transitions into its new and expanded facility. In July 2009, MCHC purchased the 5.9-acre old Pau Hana Inn, allowing it to consolidate all its services in one location, known as the Oceanside Center. This required major renovation of the existing structures and retrofitting them to meet the standards for a modern medical facility.
Delays in receiving the $1 million grant-in-aid from the State of Hawaii also slowed down the transition to the new facility. A concern about the duplication of medical services between the MCHC and Molokai General Hospital also slowed down the completion of phase two of the renovation project.
As a federally qualified health center on an island designated as a medically underserved area, the MCHC faces regular challenges. the U.S. Public Health Service designated Molokai as an area with health professional shortages in primary care, dental care and mental health. The MCHC offers all these services but is working to improve its overall quality.
Patients have complained that the MCHC has regular breakdown in follow-through with prescriptions, lab orders and referrals. A Quality Assurance Committee has been created, said Puhi, to address these issues.
“Transition has been difficult but we address any concern,” said Puhi. They have recently hired an IT specialist and risk management specialist to help with some of these problems. Puhi said she encourages patients to put their concerns in writing so they can be better handled.
President of the MCHC Board of Directors, Matt Yamashita, said the Board is made aware of every case that involves quality issues and will continue to address them.
“The MCHC is going through a major transitional phase as we adapt our services to the new facility and new operational structures,” said Yamashita. “This is not an excuse for poor service, but it has created some challenges that have impacted, in some instances, appropriate follow-through.”
Yamashita added that the Quality Assurance Committee and dedicated staff addresses any such incidences. “Our board is aware of where we need improvement and our administrative staff has been making efforts to address where and how to implement operational systems that provide a better standard of patient service.
“We want the community to know that while this is a time of transition for the organization, the MCHC remains fully functional and committed to providing quality services,” said Yamashita.
The board of directors for the MCHC, like all community health centers, must have a composition of at least 51 percent of users of the facility, rather than medical professionals. “To me, this a fabulous model,” said Puhi. “They can give insight that a professional may not see.” The board does include a registered nurse as well as a substance abuse counselor.
Puhi said funding for all three phases of the new facility have been secured and they are moving forward. “These are exciting times,” she said. “It takes a community vision and we’re here to show that it can happen.”
Puhi also complimented the work of the board. “I am proud of our board. They meet quorum every month. They are working hard. For a volunteer board I am really proud of them.”
Other board members include Vice President Brent Keliiokamalu Nakihei, Treasurer Carol Franko, Corene Helm, Leoda Shizuma, Halealoha Ayau, Jim Schelenski, Julia Hoe, Malia Waits and Sybil Lopez.