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Nearly half of Hawaiʻi residents are unhealthy, but doctors are scarce

hawaii health
Lisa Grove
Access to Care

A statewide survey shows that nearly half of Hawaiʻi residents can be classified as unhealthy.

It is one of several key findings of the Access to Care research initiative from the nonprofit Community First. The organization brought together partners from health care, public policy and social services for the project.

The research surveyed 3,287 residents and 324 health care workers from April 1 through May 9. Individual and group interviews were conducted after the survey.

The research found that the lack of physicians was the biggest barrier to health care.

Over the past year, half of Hawaiʻi’s health care providers have considered moving to the mainland, reducing their hours or quitting the medical field entirely.

The high cost of living is the biggest reason physicians leave, followed by the low reimbursement rate from insurers.

Lisa Grove, the CEO of the data analysis company Grove Insight, says Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi residents experience the biggest difficulties when it comes to health care access.

While 93% of Oʻahu residents were able to find the medical care they need on island, only 30% of Lānaʻi residents and 32% of Molokaʻi residents found treatment from their home islands.

"One of the questions, especially our neighbor islanders and rural folks and providers kept asking is, instead of flying people to Oʻahu for health appointments, how come we can’t have the providers coming to these islands in some sort of rotation," said Grove.

The addition of airfare to the high cost of living and the declining economy from the pandemic is pushing many residents into a corner.

About 52% of survey respondents reported cutting back on food to save money. 36% cut back on medical care for financial reasons.

The health care providers who responded to the survey said the retention rate for physicians must increase for a healthier Hawaiʻi — especially the retention of mental health care professionals.

A lower cost of living is also necessary for the mental wellness of residents, and increased access to healthy foods and products.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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