HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Starting next month, city ambulances in Makiki and Ewa Beach will reduce their coverage by four hours a day, as the city shifts all paramedics and emergency medical technicians to a 12-hour work schedule from eight-hour shifts.
The units will no longer operate 16 hours day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Instead they will run for 12 hours from noon until midnight.
"The call volume is higher during the noon to midnight shift, as compared to the midnight to noon shift," said Mark Rigg, director of the city's emergency services department.
Rigg said the shift to 12-hour shifts saved the city about $1 million in the last year.
The Ewa Beach ambulance unit opened three years ago after St. Francis West hospital closed and paramedics were taking a long time to transport patients to hospitals in town.
"Since the West has re-opened now for over a year, health care services have improved, ambulance turnaround times are quicker, ambulance turnaround times are shorter now that they're going to the West instead of town," Rigg said.
Ewa City Councilmember Kymberly Pine said, "Whenever you remove hours of service to an ambulance in any community, the community is going to feel very uneasy and very worried about their safety."
The city said ambulances from Waipahu, Makakilo and Waipio will cover Ewa medical calls in the mornings.
Sources told Hawaii News Now the Ewa unit went on seven critical cardiac cases in the last three months during the morning hours when the unit will be closed starting Sept. 1. The Ewa unit went on numerous "serious" medical calls during the morning hours recently, from strokes, seizures and traffic accidents to diabetic emergencies, sources said.
The city is also eliminating two so-called rapid-response units that are SUVs driven by one paramedic each based in Kahuku and Kapolei. The city said it's re-assigning those medics to ambulances that are able to transport patients in an effort to avoid any ambulance units temporarily shutting down because of short staffing.
Earlier this year, the city unsuccessfully asked state lawmakers for nearly $4.5 million to open new ambulance units in Salt Lake and Kakaako, since since the five urban paramedic units already handle 40-percent of the island's call volume.
"Our guys are really busy in town and the call volume is something that we wanted to look at. It's a concern for us," Rigg said.
Ambulance officials said with more people moving into new high rises in Kakaako and the burgeoning homeless population, Kakaako could use its own ambulance unit. But state lawmakers did not fund their request.
While the city runs the 20-ambulance system on Oahu, the state funds its operations. It's annual operating costs went from $34 million to $36 million this year because of union pay increases and health benefit hikes, officials said.
In the last four years, EMS responses increased 18 percent, officials said.
"New units are slow in coming, but the demands of EMS continue to grow each year," Rigg said. "Our concerns are staying within budget and keeping the level of service that we're providing right now. But our budget is tight."