HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, has been helping shepherd Hawaii through so many healthcare issues, including the COVID era and beyond. He joined KHON2 in-studio to talk about top issues in the health sector.

KHON2: Top of mind right now, you did a study having to do with healthcare worker shortages. We thought it was bad during COVID, and it’s gotten worse. What have you found?

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RAETHEL: It’s very important because we need a lot more healthcare personnel than what we have in a number of different areas. We did our initial statewide report in 2019. And at that point in time, we identified about 2,200 open, non-physician patient-facing healthcare positions. And in our latest study, which we conducted earlier this year in which we literally just released yesterday, we have almost 3,800 open patient-facing positions in the state of Hawaii.

KHON2: That’s just a precipitous fall. How can you make up that ground? What are some of the strategies to fix this?

RAETHEL: Well, we’re working very, very hard. We entered the pandemic with that shortage. And we’ve been working hard during the pandemic. But what has been happening is that the need for healthcare workers has actually grown, it has increased. And so all the efforts we have are working. There are a lot of different initiatives. We’re working very well with all the educational institutions in the state from high school, community colleges, universities, we just need more people. It’s a great career and a great profession.

KHON2: And you have some entry pathways for kids as young as high school. What about people who want to change careers? Is it ever too late to think about a career in healthcare?

RAETHEL: There are multiple entry points for healthcare, and that’s one of the great things about healthcare, you can get in. There are students who get certificates in the public high schools and they can get straight into the workforce when they graduate from high school. You can get in with an associate degree, with a one-year certificate course, undergraduate graduate, multiple entry points.

KHON2: We’re also seeing our hospitals and our clinics, full of primarily kids and others with RSV, sometimes a mix of RSV and flu and then COVID is still out there. How severe is this RSV and flu this season?

RAETHEL: Well, just looking at COVID, we have about 60 to 70 COVID patients on any given day. Many of those are incidental, so COVID is not a major issue for our hospitals right now. We are seeing an increasing incidence of flu and RSV. Now fortunately, the RSV levels, especially for young children, are manageable. However, the clinics and emergency rooms are seeing a much higher volume of RSV and flu, but it’s not translating into significant numbers of inpatient admissions.

KHON2: So parents just keep an eye out, know the signs. Now, COVID, we’re so used to getting our shots for free getting some of our tests for free, being able to go to see the doctor or a clinician if we’ve come across COVID in our lives. Free access is coming to an end soon. Can you tell us financially what’s going to change here at year-end and why the public needs to know about it?

KHON2: Well, the federal government has been funding tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the pandemic. And they have been covering all the testing, they have been covering the immunizations. And they’ve also been covering all the therapeutic agents, however, all those funding sources are running out. So starting in January, the coverage will revert to what people normally have. So if you have commercial coverage, you may have a co-pay for example, so it will fall under your commercial coverage. Now, Medicaid, there’s no copay for Medicaid. But for Medicare or commercial patients, there may be a copay for whether it’s immunizations, for therapies, or even the tests.

KHON2: All right, and if you’re uninsured, of course, there’s no safety net there for you as it relates to COVID come year end?

RAETHEL: We’re very fortunate in Hawaii, we have a very low uninsured rate, it’s probably about three percent right now. And there are some community health clinics, for example, that are still able to have some of those supplies and they could provide coverage for those individuals.

KHON2: But if people haven’t gotten their shots yet or haven’t gotten their boosters and want to before year-end might be a good time to do it?

RAETHEL: Well, it’s a great incentive to get their booster to get their shot now, while it’s still being covered.

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KHON2: Is there anything else you want people who want you to know or related to all the things you’re looking out for him on your horizon?

RAETHEL: Well, we are working very, very hard to make sure that everyone in Hawaii gets the care that they need.