EXCLUSIVE: Busy city ambulances temporarily closed last weekend - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

EXCLUSIVE: Busy city ambulances temporarily closed last weekend

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The city officials said sick calls and overtime for city paramedics and emergency medical technicians have decreased by about 20 percent since a new work schedule began last August. But several busy Honolulu-area paramedic units still had to temporarily close recently because of staffing shortages.

In the eight months since city emergency medical services crews went from working eight-hour shifts five days a week to 12-hour shifts three or four days a week, the city is on track to save $1 million in overtime during the first year of the new schedule, according to Mark Rigg, the city's EMS director.

"We're retaining our employees and generally our employees are happier with the 12-hour schedule," Rigg said.

Before the schedule change, some paramedics and EMTs were quitting because they were constantly being forced to work 16-hour days.

But Rigg said vacancies have decreased since August from 22 to eight this month.

"We've also had four employees that resigned during the eight-hour schedule return to the department after the implementation of the 12-hour schedule," Rigg said. "Nobody's getting stuck right now. Everybody goes home at the end of their shifts and we're finding the morale is a lot better."

But last Sunday, the city still couldn't find enough medics to staff its Baker One unit at Queens Medical Center, which responds to an average of 14 or 15 calls in a 12-hour shift. So the unit closed from midnight until noon April 19, and other ambulance crews had to pick up the slack.

The city's Makiki ambulance unit stationed on Young Street also shut down for eight hours that same Sunday afternoon.

"If we have to close a unit, we prefer to close a unit in the metropolitan area. Even though it's busy, the adjacent units are so close to the unit that's closed down, it's easier to cover that gap in coverage," Rigg said.

For example, if the city shut down the Kahuku ambulance unit, there's a large gap in coverage between the Waialua and Kaneohe ambulance units, Rigg added.

Weekends tend to be the problem because fewer EMS crews volunteer for overtime on Saturdays and Sundays.

"The weekends, people just want to stay home, and I don't blame them. They want to be with their families, they want to take advantage of the weekend off, and so they're not making themselves available for overtime," Rigg said.

Rigg said 14 new EMTS are going through orientation sessions currently and will be on the road in a month, helping to fill the few remaining vacancies on city ambulances.

Because fewer medics are required to work under the new schedule, the city been able to temporarily open ambulance units in town and in Waipio during 50 shifts since August , Rigg said, something that was almost unheard of before the schedule change.

There are about 243 paramedics and EMTs who work in city ambulances. The city has 18 ambulance units on 12-hour schedules and two others on eight-hour shifts. An advanced life support ambulance requires at least one paramedic on its crew.

When the city brings more EMTs on its payroll, Rigg said his department would like to add one or two basic life support ambulances staffed by two EMTs to supplement existing coverage in the future.

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