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Queen's hospital nurses on Hawai'i Island paid nearly 20% less than Oʻahu counterparts

Queen's North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital
The Queen's Health Systems
Queen's North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital

The Queen’s North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital in Waimea has been struggling to employ nurses even before the pandemic.

Part of the problem, nurses say, is that Queen's Health System nurses on Hawaiʻi Island are paid less than those on Oʻahu. They also have no pensions and pay higher shares of health insurance premiums.

When Hawaiʻi Nurses' Association President Daniel Ross was asked why this is happening, he responded, "Because the employers can get away with it. Straight out. It’s greed. It’s money. I’m straight out, honest. Queen’s likes to try to put out, 'We’re one big ʻohana,' and it’s all about image."

He says the nurses working at Queen’s NHCH on average are paid 18.9% less than nurses working for a Queen’s hospital on Oʻahu.

NHCH has been operating as an independent nonprofit since 1987. The hospital officially joined Queen’s Health System in 2014 but the employee contract never matched those on Oʻahu.

When Jennifer Johnson began her career as a registered nurse for NHCH in 2019, she was not aware her pay would be less than her counterparts on Oʻahu. She has seen 12 nurses leave her department in the past three years.

"It’s made my job extremely difficult," she said. "It is dire enough to affect patient safety and nursing safety. I just need the tools to provide excellent patient care, and I feel that we need more nurses in order for me to do that job."

Despite the low pay and stressful work environment, some nurses choose to stay at Queen’s NHCH.

Heather Yost, who has been a nurse at the Waimea hospital for 10 years, explains, "We’re here and we stay with North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital because we care about each other. This is our community. Our families are here. This is where we want to be."

"We don’t want to commute to Kona or to Hilo even though the pay is better and the benefits are better. And it causes the staff here to kinda feel trapped. We have to take whatever management wants to give us because what is our alternative?" Yost said.

The layers of administration within The Queen’s Health System make asking for a pay raise a difficult task.

Queen’s said in a statement, “We remain committed to good faith bargaining with the Hawaiʻi Nurses’ Association to reach a new contract that our represented nurses can be proud of and support. While we were unable to reach an agreement at our last session, to date we’ve had productive and engaging dialogue at the bargaining table.”

A meeting was scheduled for late last week. They did not disclose the results of those meetings.

Ross of the nurses association believes nurses across the system should have equal benefits.

"The days are over for neighbor islanders to be treated differently because they live on a different island. This is the 21st century. The people of Hawaiʻi Island deserve equal treatment. It’s fundamentally wrong," he said.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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