A 'Silent Medical Crisis' on Oahu

Dr. Linda Rasmussen
Dr. Linda Rasmussen

WINDWARD OAHU (KHNL) -- Wednesday night, we continued our coverage of the doctor shortage here in Hawaii. In the past two weeks, we focused on the Big Island, but doctors say there's a growing health care crisis even on Oahu.

Whether it's a serious car accident or a helicopter crash, orthopaedic surgeons like Dr. Linda Rasmussen play a major role in taking care of broken bones. She's become a rarity on Oahu recently, because about half of her colleagues left the island.

"In orthopaedic surgery, we've lost four orthopaedic surgeons just in the past year," said Dr. Rasmussen. "We've only had seven to start with, so losing four is a huge loss."

They've only managed to recruit one because it's so expensive to practice medicine in Hawaii. Dr. Rasmussen said the Big Island health care crisis is a snapshot of what's happening across the state.

"You really need to look at what's happening on the Big Island and realize that doctors are leaving practice here on Oahu," she said. "I really feel the whole system is ready to implode."

With half the number of orthopaedic surgeons, Oahu's medical infrastructure is not ready for the next disaster.

"To have a major catastrophe would be huge," said Dr. Rasmussen. "We only have two full-time orthopaedic trauma guys that are doing the trauma call."

And neighbor islands also suffer from the lack of orthopaedic surgeons on Oahu.

"The neighbor islands are in a horrible situation as it is because if they have a bad fracture, and it used to be, we could refer them to Queen's (Medical Center) and that's not the case anymore," said Dr. Rasmussen. "Queen's is often full."

Without recruitment incentives, some predict Hawaii's doctor shortage will continue to worsen.

"I think it's like putting the canary in the coal mine," said Dr. Rasmussen. "The canary has died on the neighbor islands. We need to wake up on Oahu and say, this is happening there. This is certainly happening on Oahu as well."

In addition to the four orthopaedic surgeons lost, six other Oahu physicians have left in the past year, with only one replacement made.

The high cost of malpractice insurance is also partly to blame.