Healthcare workers at Maui’s largest hospital rally for better wages

WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Dozens of healthcare workers from Maui’s main hospital held signs in Kahului on Wednesday.

About 75 Maui Memorial Medical Center workers lined Kaahumanu Avenue near Puunene Avenue demanding better pay to cover Hawaii‘s living expenses.

China Kapuras is a case management specialist at the hospital and has worked there for 16 years.

She says it’s a tough job with pay that can’t keep up with Hawaii’s high cost of living.

“I wasn’t able to live comfortably on my own,” Kapuras said. “I always had to look for a roommate. It’s just hard, and I know friends who have it hard too.”

“I know a lot of other staff that have more than one job, I’m one of them,” said Josh Masslon, a registered intensive care unit nurse.

According to the United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaii (UNHCEH), nurses in Hawaii earn the lowest salaries in the country when the cost of living is factored in.

UNHCEH is a branch of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP).

Union officials are calling on hospital management to increase pay and benefits as part of ongoing contract negotiations.

“It’s about retaining staff and staying competitive with the mainland because Hawaii keeps losing people to the mainland and young people should be able to afford to live and make a living here,” Masslon said.

Maui health officials said Hawaii pays the second-highest salaries for health workers in the country, but acknowledged the high cost of living challenged the ability to hire and retain workers.

“These complex issues remain challenging, and it will require collaboration with colleagues across the healthcare industry and the state to identify ways to solve them,” he said Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda.

Hospital workers said better pay will ensure better work-life balance, secure staffing and quality patient care.

“We have been very loyal and committed to this hospital, and we would like to be recognized,” Kapuras said.

“We just want you to hear our story,” Kapuras said.

Dallarda said this is not just a nationwide issue, but a well-documented nationwide challenge:

On July 18, 2022, Health and Human Services released a report on the headcount in government hospitals across the country. Hawaii’s hospitals have been ranked seventh in the country facing a critical staffing shortage, with expectations the shortages will continue. This is no surprise. Even before the pandemic, Hawaii had a significant shortage of medical professionals. The pandemic has only exacerbated this shortage. Additionally, Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country.

The union has been negotiating with the hospital since July this year.

Contract negotiations will continue on Thursday.

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