Absence of Army Medevac Chopper Leaves Remote Areas Vunerable

WAIANAE (KHNL)  The emergency room at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Center is one of the busiest in the state. The health care facility serves more than 40,000 people along the Waianae coast.

"We see people come in dead on arrival, we take a a lot of trauma, we take a lot of heart attacks. Everything that can possibly happens, comes through here," says Medical Director Dr. Ricardo Custudio.

For the past 20 years, the Army has transported patients via emergency helicopter evacuation, free of charge.

The center's CEO Richard Bettini says approximately 30 patients are transported every year. But come April, what's known as the mast, or military assistance to safety and traffic program, will be temporarily suspended until 2007. The black hawk helicopter crews are deploying to Iraq this summer.

"It will have a very large impact in Waianae if were not careful, because the large number of people who live in this community, are subject isolation at any given time," says Bettini.

The absence of the mast program will severely affect the health clinic. If an accident or brushfire shuts down Farrington Highway, the main artery in and out of the Waianae coast, healthcare workers and ambulances won't be able to get through.

The State Department of Health is looking at alternatives, like using a private helicopter service. But Bettini says that could cause more problems.

"I don't see people here having a lot of money to pay for an expensive service."

And the health center's insurance rates will most likely increase.

Meantime, the health center is planning to upgrade its emergency room and increase staff.