Teacher’s lawsuit alleges improper cancer diagnosis

Posted: November 11th, 2011 | Comments Off

HONOLULU - A Maui High School science teacher and his wife are suing Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and other heath care entities, alleging doctors misdiagnosed his rare form of cancer and later refused to cover the costs of treatment elsewhere that saved his life.

The complaint says that Kaiser did not properly diagnose Michael Siopes' neuroendocrine cancer and "embarked on an improper and potentially disastrous course of treatment," according to a statement Wednesday afternoon from the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston.

Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Lott said Kaiser could not comment because the case is in litigation.

Attorneys for Siopes said that the Kaiser physician in charge of his care "candidly admitted that he had never seen or treated Michael's type of cancer," which was neuroendocrine carcinoma of the gastroesophageal junction.

"Even though Kaiser recognized that Michael suffered from an extremely rare and deadly form of cancer, it failed to schedule a timely consultation with an oncologist or provide Michael with his requested second opinion," Siopes' law firm stated in a news release.

The law firm said Michael and Lacey Siopes decided to seek a second opinion from physicians experienced with neuroendocrine cancer. They flew to Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina where Michael Siopes was evaluated, properly diagnosed and received appropriate treatment. He was hospitalized from March through June 2010. During that time, his tumor was reduced through radiation treatment and removed.

Today, Siopes, a 42-year-old Haiku resident, is cancer free and has returned to teaching at Maui High.

But his attorneys said Kaiser has refused to cover the cost of Siopes' medical treatment, although that is required by state law and by Kaiser's health insurance plan. He has been a member of Kaiser since 1994.

"Faced with mounting medical bills, Michael's friends, students and community have provided assistance to protect the Siopes family from financial ruin, including holding a fundraiser at Ruby's Diner in Kahului," the law firm said.

The Siopes family faces more than $277,000 in medical bills, said attorney Matthew Winter.

"The long struggle of this family to obtain the medical care they contracted to receive from Kaiser has had a devastating emotional and financial impact on their lives," Winter said. "We all hope that this case will resolve Kaiser's obligation to its patients and will serve as a disincentive to mistreat the members of its health plan."

The lawsuit was filed in 1st Circuit Court on Oahu.

Siopes' attorneys are seeking the cost of his medical bills, as well as special, general and punitive damages to be proven at trial, along with attorneys' fees.

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16 boys, girls take part at Hula O Na Keiki

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Comments Off

LAHAINA - Sixteen children between the ages of 5 and 17 competed last week in Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's 21st annual Hula O Na Keiki competition.

In the three-day event, Kamalani Kaleimomi Kahalepoli Kawa'a emerged as the overall girls' winner. The 16-year-old dances with Halau Kekuao-kala'au'ala'iliahi under the direction of na kumu hula 'Iliahi and Haunani Pardes.

The overall boys winner was Alexander Kawika Guerrero, 17, of Halau Hula Kauluokala, under the direction of kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero.

Dancers were judged on their style of chanting, interpretation of the dances, and cultural appropriateness of costumes and adornments. Contestants were also scored on interviews with a panel of judges, who questioned their thoughts on dance, costume selection including adornments, and proper use of the Hawaiian language.

Children entered as soloists or palua, boy and girl pairs. The competition included performances of kahiko (ancient) and 'auana (modern) hula styles. Participants competed for cash and prizes. Hula O Na Keiki is a nonprofit event established by the staff of Ka'anapali Beach Hotel in 1990. Hotel and community employees volunteer their time for the event, which perpetuates and promotes awareness of Hawaiian culture through music and dance, according to a release.

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Helicopter crash on Molokai kills 5

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Comments Off

All five people aboard died Thursday when a tour helicopter crashed and burst into flames on Molokai's east end, in the deadliest helicopter crash in Maui County in more than a decade. The crash of the Eurocopter EC130B4 operated by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was reported at 12:23 p.m. about three-quarters of a mile from Kilohana Elementary School, mauka of Kamehameha V Highway. Witnesses said they heard an explosion and saw a "ball of fire" as the aircraft crashed into the side of the mountain.

The helicopter, which was on an air tour flight from Maui to Molokai, was engulfed in flames after the crash, said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration Pacific Division. The helicopter pilot was identified as 30-year-old Nathan Cline of Kihei.

Maui Police Department spokesman Lt. Wayne Ibarra said police were in the process of notifying family members of the four passengers, who weren't from Hawaii, before releasing their names. Patti Chevalier, co-owner of Blue Hawaiian, said "everyone who works at Blue Hawaiian across the state is devastated."

"Our first concern is for the families," she said, adding that she could not immediately provide more information about the crash.

Gary Gonder, resident manager at Wavecrest Resort condos on Molokai, said workers in his office heard a "boom" and saw smoke rising from the side of the mountain above their complex. Employees who witnessed the crash said it looked like a "ball of fire."

He used binoculars to get a better view of the area right after the crash, wondering if there would be any survivors.

"I was hoping, at the time, but seeing all the fire, it didn't look real promising that anybody would survive," he said. "But I was praying that they did."

Firefighters from the Kaunakakai and Pukoo fire stations on Molokai aided in the recovery of the bodies of two women and three men, including one that was under the wreckage, according to Maui County officials.

Emergency workers used all-terrain vehicles to reach the crash area in rough terrain, said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga. He said weather conditions in the area consisted of "lots of wind and rain."

Firefighters said the crash caused a brush fire but flames were limited to the crash site.

Ibarra said an MPD chaplain was at Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, which operates at the Kahului Airport heliport, to provide counseling for company employees Thursday. The Maui Visitors Bureau was assisting the victims' families, according to a Maui County news release.

Terryl Vencl, executive director of the MVB, said her organization is ready to help in whatever way it is asked, such as helping family members arrange deals on transportation or find rooms on Maui.

"We will do what we can," she said.

Gregor said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, with the NTSB serving as the lead investigative agency. While the NTSB investigator usually posts a basic preliminary report on the agency's website within a week or two of an accident, it typically takes the NTSB months to determine a probable cause for accidents, Gregor said.

According to FAA records, the helicopter was manufactured in 2010 and is owned by Nevada Helicopter Leasing in Henderson, Nev.

The fatal crash Thursday occurred more than 11 years after a Blue Hawaiian tour helicopter crashed in Iao Valley on July 21, 2000, killing the pilot and six passengers. The NTSB later determined the pilot was responsible for the crash when he flew into the valley despite cloudy conditions.

In the only other fatal civilian helicopter crash in Maui County in the past decade, the pilot of a UH-1 Huey helicopter who had just delivered cargo to Kahoolawe for Pacific Helicopters was killed May 22, 2003, when a trailing cable snagged the tail rotor.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com. News Editor Lee Imada and Staff Writer Harry Eagar contributed to this report.

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Strike hits Hawaiian Telcom

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Comments Off

KAHULUI - Hawaiian Telcom's electrical union employees, who are half its work force, started a two-day strike Thursday after prolonged contract negotiations failed.

The company says it needs cuts to survive, while union members accused executives of greed and creating labor problems.

On Maui, at least a dozen members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 1357 picketed outside Hawaiian Telcom's base yard off of Wakea Avenue. The picketers were occasionally joined by members of other unions and social advocacy groups.

Hawaiian Telcom has about 50 Maui County IBEW 1357 employees and 700 statewide. Management said it was unsure how the temporary work stoppage would impact customer service. Members declined to speak publicly or say if more strikes are coming.

"We sincerely apologize to our customers for any temporary inconvenience due to the union's action and ask for their patience and understanding during this period," a news release from Hawaiian Telcom said.

"Having anticipated this possibility, Hawaiian Telcom has activated readiness plans to minimize service disruptions during the work stoppage but cautions that delays can be expected," the release said.

Hawaiian Telcom has cemented itself as the state's largest phone, long-distance and Internet provider through acquisitions and upgrades, such as more fiber-optic lines. So far, the sides have let the public relations professionals do the talking. For instance, details about the company's last contract offer can be found online at www.hawaiiantel.com.

Union members who said they are not supposed to be speaking to the press said they are just trying to maintain the status quo after making previous painful concessions, such as accepting a large round of layoffs not long ago.

"Hawaiian Telcom's proposal threatens our pensions, affects our medical and dental coverage and sick leave," according to a statement by union spokesman Scott Long.

It's become increasingly clear that the company is taking a hard-line stance and if it doesn't get what it wants will go so far as to seek the collapse of the union itself, said some members, who did not want to be named.

"We are asking for a fair and equitable contract that leaves our benefits and wages intact," according Long's brief news release.

The company, however, said it presented its "last, best and final offer" for a new collective bargaining agreement to the union in early October, Hawaiian Telcom spokesman Scott Simon said. Simon said the company's offer still makes employee salaries and benefits very competitive and more in line with the industry norm.

Management also accused the local of putting union members on the picket lines to make a statement while the world is watching Hawaii during the international Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.

But company officials added that APEC's massive communication needs will be met through extra work by supervisors and private contractors.

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton@mauinews.com.

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County / In Brief

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Comments Off

Bail set for stabbing suspect

WAILUKU - Bail was set at $6,000 for a 19-year-old Haiku man charged with assaulting his mother, who was stabbed in the lower back with a steak knife Wednesday night at their home. Colton Roberts was charged with first-degree assault and abuse of a family member in the stabbing reported shortly after 6 p.m. at the residence on Luahine Place, said Lt. Wayne Ibarra, Maui Police Department spokesman.

He said Roberts' 56-year-old mother was treated for nonlife-threatening injuries.

Roberts was being held at the Wailuku Police Station on Friday.

High-surf advisory extended

WAILUKU - The National Weather Service in Honolulu has extended its high-surf advisory until 6 p.m. Sunday for the east-facing shores of Maui and Molokai. Strong trade winds are producing rough and choppy surf through the end of the week, and a longer swell is expected to arrive today and continue through the weekend, adding to the size of the surf, Civil Defense officials said.

Surf is expected to be 6 to 8 feet today, rising to 10 feet in height over the weekend.

Beachgoers are urged to stay out of the water and away from shore break.

County nets honors for budget

WAILUKU - The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada has awarded Maui County its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the 2012 fiscal year. In order to receive the award, the county had to meet national guidelines for effective budget presentation and issue a budget that serves simultaneously as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide and communications tool.

Mayor Alan Arakawa and Budget Director Sandy Baz received the award.

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Helicopter crash victims from Pennsylvania, Ontario

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Comments Off

Two of the victims of a deadly helicopter crash on Molokai Thursday have been identified as Pennsylvania residents Nicole and Michael Abel, who were married less than a week earlier. The Abels both worked for Westinghouse Electric Co., company spokesman Vaughn Gilbert said Friday. "Clearly this is a tragic loss for the families involved and for Westinghouse. They had so many friends and colleagues who speak glowingly of them," Gilbert said. Officials have not released the names of two additional passengers who died in the crash, but confirmed they were from Ontario, Canada. The pilot, who also died, has previously been identified as 30-year-old Nathan Cline of Kihei. The Blue Hawaiian Helicopters' flight had originated in Kahului and was on a tour of Maui and Molokai when it crashed into a hillside in east Molokai near Kilohana Elementary School just before 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. It was the deadliest helicopter crash in Maui County in more than a decade. Officials said the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the crash. For more on this story, see Saturday's edition of The Maui News.

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