Channel: The Kaʻū Calendar News Briefs, Hawaiʻi Island
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Ka`u News Briefs Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hawai`i Health Systems Corp. East Hawai`i Region Board of Directors held a public meeting at Ka`u Hospital 10 months ago. The board recently announced that Ka`u Hospital is one of three facilities in the region to face layoffs and service cutbacks. Photo by Julia Neal
KA`U HOSPITAL IS FACING LAYOFFS and reductions in services despite success in controlling costs while growing and improving. Hawai`i Health Systems Corp. announced that its East Hawai`i Region, which includes Ka`u Hospital, Hale Ho`ola Hamakua and Hilo Medical Center, must deal with a $50 million budget shortfall.
Ka`u Hospital Adminstrator
Merilyn Harris
      Following HHSC’s previous request to the state Legislature for emergency funding, Administrator Merilyn Harris said, “We cannot exist without some funding from the state as over 76 percent of our patients are covered by either Medicare or Medicaid, neither of which covers the full cost of care. We’re very proud of the fact that we are safety net facilities because we believe that care should be available for everyone, but it sure is challenging.”
      The state-funded hospital system is cutting almost 90 jobs at the facilities, according to Pacific Business News.
      Increased costs and low rates of reimbursement from a growing, rural population have contributed to the reductions. About 75 percent of hospital payments are from Medicare and Medicaid and don’t cover the cost of care.
      East Hawai`i Regional Board Chair Gary Yoshiyama said cutbacks and layoffs are the last option to cover the deficit. “Our budget shortfall will have considerable impact on health care facilities in East Hawai`i,” Yoshiyama said. “Regionwide cost-cutting measures have already been implemented, and service cutbacks and layoffs are the only remaining option for our financial viability. Many scenarios were carefully weighed in our preparations to maintain essential health care services and minimize any potential harm to patients.” 
      According to HHSC, the East Hawai`i Region is the Big Island’s second-largest employer with an operating budget of $160 million and a payroll exceeding $100 million.
      See bizjournals.com/pacific.
      To comment on or like this story, go to facebook.com/kaucalendar.

KA`U DRAFT COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PLAN, for which feedback is due by June 1, discusses zoning changes.
      “It is important that future rezones in Ka`u be consistent with the objectives and policies of the CDP,” the document states. “When considering a proposed amendment to the zoning code, the Planning Director shall recommend a change in a district boundary only where it would, among other things, be consistent with the goals, policies and standards of the General Plan. The Director shall recommend either the approval or denial of the proposed amendment to the Planning Commission subject to conditions which would further the intent of the Zoning Code and the General Plan and other related ordinances (e.g., Community Development Plans). Though it appears that ‘other related ordinances’ would naturally include CDPs, this policy ensures that the Planning Director’s recommendations on future rezones will be consistent with the Ka`u CDP.
      According to the draft, the Planning Director can approve variances from provisions of the zoning and subdivision codes to accommodate special circumstances, where no alternatives exist, and “if they are consistent with the General Plan and are not detrimental to the public welfare or cause substantial adverse impact to the area’s character or adjoining properties. The Director may also impose conditions on variances.
      “This policy simply requires that the Director consider and approve variances in a manner consistent with the Ka`u CDP.”  
      See the draft and provide feedback at kaucdp.info.
      To comment on or like this story, go to facebook.com/kaucalendar.

Mauna Loa is the topic of the current issue of Volcano Watch.
Photo from USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY SCIENTISTS turn their attention from Kilauea Volcano to Mauna Loa, on whose slopes Ka`u sits, in the current issue of Volcano Watch
      “Ongoing inflation in the upper Southwest Rift Zone and summit areas of Mauna Loa suggests that magma continues to rise into the volcano,” the article states. “The current rate and pattern of deformation are similar to the most recent episode of rapid inflation on Mauna Loa in 2004-2005. Earthquakes have also been occurring at elevated rates, particularly around the areas of inflation in the upper Southwest Rift Zone and summit.
      “Throughout its history, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has taken advantage of advances in technology to better monitor volcanoes and earthquakes. Computers have become faster, methods of transmitting information have improved and instrumentation has become smaller and more energy efficient. All these advances have been utilized to create an improved geophysical network that better supports HVO’s monitoring and science efforts.
      “In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enabled a major upgrade to HVO’s monitoring networks on Mauna Loa and Kilauea, including a conversion to digital telemetry, additional monitoring sites and improved instrumentation. These enhanced networks can now detect earlier stages of unrest, and the resulting data enables more sophisticated analyses of volcanic processes than were previously possible.
      “Since the two most recent eruptions of Mauna Loa in 1975 and 1984, HVO started using GPS, broadband seismometers and several types of analyses that were not possible with previous geophysical networks and computers. Certainly, these new data streams and analysis techniques have led to an improved understanding of Mauna Loa and its magma storage system.
Locations of earthquakes in Mauna Loa's summit area within
the past two weeks are yellow, and those within the past
two days are blue. Map from USGS/HVO
      “Scientists often try to compare previous periods of unrest, such as those in 1975 and 1984, to current unrest to gain perspective on and understanding of what might happen next. With our improved ability to detect smaller and smaller earthquakes and deformation, it is important to keep in mind that signals being recorded now might not have been detectable in past years. This leads to some interesting questions that we’re trying to answer.
      “Were the small earthquakes that we can now record present during previous periods of unrest on Mauna Loa? If so, what was their pattern?
      “With entirely new techniques available, such as GPS and interferometric radar (InSAR), we can measure the deformation of wide areas on the volcano, which allows us to detect a large, inflating magma reservoir beneath Mauna Loa that previously could not have been detected. But, was this same reservoir active before previous eruptions?
      “Continuously recording GPS receivers measure episodes of hugely varying rates of inflation interspersed with times of no inflation, which might indicate fluctuations in magma supply to Mauna Loa’s shallow storage system. Did these fluctuations occur in the past? The comparison of current and past activity is not as trivial as one might think.
      “And finally, what will be the outcome of Mauna Loa”s current unrest? Scientists cannot be sure at this point.
      “Seismic unrest is currently much less energetic than it was before the 1975 and 1984 eruptions. Several episodes of increased inflation since 1984 slowed and stopped without eruption. Each of these episodes, however, resulted in greater pressurization of the shallow storage system within Mauna Loa. “Unfortunately, we do not yet completely understand exactly how much pressure is involved, or how much internal pressure the overlying rock can bear before it breaks and allows magma to move toward the surface. 
      “Our knowledge and characterization of volcanic systems constantly evolves as improved geophysical networks lead to new scientific discoveries. But before scientists can clearly distinguish between episodes of inflation and elevated earthquake activity that accompany only the intrusion of magma (with no eruption) and those that actually lead to an eruption, there is still much work to be done.
      “So, HVO scientists continue their diligent efforts to fully understand the processes at work beneath Mauna Loa and to monitor the volcano’s restless activity. If any significant changes are observed, HVO will issue public notifications through media releases and our website updates (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/activity/maunaloastatus.php).
      See hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch.
      To comment on or like this story, go to facebook.com/kaucalendar.

EARTH MATTERS FARM invites Ka`u residents to join the monthly Ka`u Farmers Union United meeting Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The farm is at the corner of South Point and Kama`oa Roads.
      Bob Shaffer, a soil consultant, will speak about composting in Ka`u, and Gabriel Howearth, founder of Seeds of Change, will talk about seed saving and GMO issues with seeds. Anna Lisa Okoye, from The Kohala Center, will discuss the Farm-to-School Program.
      A potluck follows the meeting. “Bring a dish of local food and join in the fun,” said HFUU Ka`u Chapter President Greg Smith.
       For more information, call 443-3300.
      To comment on or like this story, go to facebook.com/kaucalendar.

HAWAIIAN CIVIC CLUB OF KA`U meets tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. Call 929-9731 or 936-7262 for location and more information.

KA`U AG WATER COOPERATIVE DISTRICT meeting is tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Royal Hawaiian Macnut Office in Pahala. Call Jeffrey McCall at 937-1056 for more information.


See kaucalendar.com/Directory2015.swf and
See kaucalendar.com/KauCalendar_May2015.pdf.

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