Maui Business

Turnover at Kula Clinic Reflects National Trend

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Dr. Nicole Apoliona, Chief Medical Director at Kula Hospital shares words of gratitude during a blessing at Kula Hospital for their 110th anniversary on Sept. 28. Kula Hospital Anniversary Photo. PC: file Maui Health

One of Kula’s stalwart and most respected physicians will be stepping down at the beginning of the new year.

In a letter dated Nov. 10 addressed to her current patients, Dr. Nicole Apoliona announced she would be resigning her position as a family physician at Kula Clinic and as medical director of Kula Hospital effective Jan. 14.

Apoliona  gave no reason for her pending departure. 

In the letter, Apoliona  said, “It has been my honor and privilege to care for you and your family and to serve as a physician at Kula Clinic. Caring for the Kula community for the past 19 years has made me a better physician and, I believe, a better person.”

Physician retention has been an issue at Kula Clinic but Tracy Dallarda, communications officer for Maui Health, sees it as part of a broader piece to the healthcare picture.

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“It is an important one and indicative of a nationwide issue, not just state, county or even Kula; however, the impact is felt by the entire community,” she said.

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“Adequate primary care physician coverage for cities, and especially rural communities, has always been a challenge and has been researched extensively. Researchers pinpoint many reasons, including the specific skill set a rural physician provider needs that includes performing a wide variety of procedures for a diverse community,” she said.

“However,“ she continued, “it is important to note that clinical staffing in general has been a significant issue only exacerbated by the pandemic, with many health care institutions, including Maui Health, challenged with filling vacancies, which has been well documented as a state-level issue with the need for FEMA nurses to assist during our most recent COVID-19 surge.”

Dallarda said Maui Health is working to recruit physicians and nurses to Maui and has even started many clinical education programs to foster talent already within our community.  

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“We are also working on strategies to retain the team we have and keep them engaged,” she said.

“We are grateful to Dr. Apoliona and her 19 years of service to the Kula community.  She has been an incredible patient advocate and a champion for compassionate, evidence-based, quality care.  She will be greatly missed,” Dallarda said.

According to Apoliona’s  letter,  Dr. Lisa Sodetani, an internist, has joined the Kula Clinic practice to provide care to patients 18 years and older.

Dallarda said recruitment efforts would continue for additional primary care physicians for both Kula and the greater Maui community.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US is expected to face a shortage of about 120,000 primary care and specialized practitioners by 2030.

The Resident Physician Shortage Protection Act was passed by Congress in 2019-2020. The bill increased the number of residency positions eligible for graduate medical education payments under Medicare for qualifying hospitals, with an aggregate increase of 3,000 positions per fiscal year for five years.

Of those positions, at least 1,500 per fiscal year must be for residents in a  shortage specialty residency program.

Andy Gross
Andy Gross is an experienced journalist who has worked many places both abroad and in Hawaiʻi. He says he has never lost his curiosity, compassion or empathy for the people, the world and the conditions that surround him.
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