Things Are Looking Up

The future is looking bright for Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, and president and CEO Hilton Raethel has big plans for the trade organization and its partners.

Health care impacts everyone in some way. People need insurance and convenient access to medical services. Family members and caregivers oftentimes require support, as well. Doctors are tasked with the responsibility of providing quality care. And there are many others who play an integral role in making sure everything runs smoothly, from insurers and government agencies to nurses, pharmacists and administrative staff. Getting all these moving parts to work with one another, to focus on one mission, can be a tall order. But it’s necessary.

Enter Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, which aims to bridge the gap between payers and providers. It sees a future for the state as a place where patients receive affordable, high-quality care, and providers in turn are reimbursed, which enables them to continue offering superior medical care.

And it’s doing a pretty good job so far, to hear new president and CEO Hilton Raethel tell it.

Currently, the uninsured rate in Hawai‘i sits at about 4 or 5 percent, a big difference from the 15-20 percent in California. And despite Hawai‘i’s high cost of living, the 50th State ranks as one of the lowest in terms of annual price of premiums. According to Raethel, Hawai‘i also has one of the lowest emergency room visit and readmission rates in the nation, as well as the second lowest Medicare price per capita.

Jessica Ackerman, nurse practitioner with The Queen’s Medical Center Geriatric Services

“That’s a demonstration for how well this system works,” he says.

His optimism for the state’s health care system is refreshing, and is a good reminder that we really are “lucky to live Hawai‘i.”

Raethel brings to the position nearly three decades of health care experience, and has worked in both the payer and provider sectors. He’s seen the way health care systems work in other locales, and says Hawai‘i’s sense of community is paramount.

“It creates a different environment,” he explains. “In Southern California, it’s much more competitive. There are so many more players, negotiations many times are knock-down, drag-out types of negotiations. It’s a win-or-lose situation.

Dr. Anne Dempsey, physician at Kaua‘i Medical Clinic/Hawai‘i Pacific Health

“In Hawai‘i, all our hospitals are not for profit, all the major plans and local plans are not for profit, and that’s a different vision, a different sense of community.”

Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i’s membership of more than 170 includes acute-care hospitals, long-term care facilities, assisted-living facilities, home health agencies, hospices and other providers. As a trade organization, it is also responsible for bringing to the table the major players that have a hand in the health care industry.

“Whether we’re working with Department of Health or Department of Human Services, whether we’re working with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, commercial payers, we can all work together to provide the best care in Hawai‘i,” Raethel adds.

Most exciting for him is the organization’s responsibility for advocacy. In his first three months with Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, Raethel already has created a streamlined system — involving legislative, regulatory, judicial and community — that formally defines the term and utilizes a number of methods to get the job done.

Gary Oshita, activity coordinator for Maluhia’s recreation therapy department

“It gives us more options,” he explains. “You can propose legislation, and it may be really good legislation, but some legislative initiatives take two, three, four years to get passed.

“Now, when we’re looking at an issue, we can say, ‘OK, what’s the best way to solve that?’ You don’t have to go straight to a legislative solution.”

The state’s low uninsured rate does a good job of reducing barriers to care, which is good news for everyone involved. According to Raethel, statistics have shown that when people have access to care, they use it. Minor ailments can be treated before they turn into bigger problems.

But staying healthy doesn’t just mean going to the doctor’s office for routine checkups. Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i wants to focus on the well-being of the whole person.

Cheri Teranishi-Hashimoto, assistant manager of KJ & Beatrice Luke Specialty Clinic at Nu‘uanu, and women’s health and cancer rehabilitation program director with Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific

Part of it is encouraging healthier lifestyles and educating the public about the vital relationships between diet, disease, exercise and health. (Raethel, himself, is an avid standup paddleboarder, and heads out into the water two to three times a week.)

“It’s not just treating people when they’re sick,” he says. “It’s helping to make sure they don’t get sick in the first place.”

Though, he’s also quick to note, Hawai‘i’s unique health care system would be nothing without the people that make it run. That’s why Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i honors public-nominated outstanding professionals every year.

The 2017 Hawai‘i Health-care Heroes — Jessica Ackerman, nurse practitioner with The Queen’s Medical Center Geriatric Services; Dr. Anne Dempsey, Kaua‘i Medical Clinic/Hawai‘i Pacific Health; Gary Oshita, activity coordinator for Maluhia’s recreation therapy department; Cheri Teranishi-Hashimoto, assistant manager of KJ & Beatrice Luke Specialty Clinic at Nu‘uanu, and women’s health and cancer rehabilitation program director with Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific; and Dr. Baron C.K.W. Wong, internal medicine physician, geriatrician and hospitalist at Wahiawā General Hospital — span the spectrum of health care, but all possess the hearts of servants.

Dr. Baron C.K.W. Wong, internal medicine physician, geriatrician, hospitalist at Wahiawā General Hospital

In his current position, Ra-ethel had the privilege of seeing just how much health care professionals do to serve patients and their families — and it is often the smallest of gestures that make the biggest impact.

“My mother always feels valued as a kūpuna … and it has lengthened her life.” writes Oshita’s nominator.

From Dempsey’s proposer: “She kept in contact, she welcomed our calls and texts, she was always there to help. She did not give up on our mom, and that inspired us to remain strong and hopeful.”

Narrowing down the finalists, however, was no easy task.

“We get some incredible stories,” he says. “You go through that selection process and read all of the stories. They’re inspiring, encouraging, heartwarming. This is a chance for us to recognize a few of those individuals as representatives of a much larger group who are taking care of Hawai‘i’s people.”

This year’s Hawai‘i Health-care Heroes exemplify the state’s best and are but a small sampling of the great professionals practicing in the state. Each day there are thousands of nurses, doctors, aides, therapists and administrators who utilize their training and compassion to help others.

“We talked about how fortunate we are to have the health care system here in Hawai‘i,” Raethel notes. “Even though we’re out here in the middle of the Pacific, we have great people and the tools and technology to take care of people.”

The 2017 Hawai‘i Health-care Heroes will be honored Oct. 21 at Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i’s Annual Awards & Scholarship Gala. Visit hah.org/gala for more information.