Trauma Care in Critical Stage

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- KHNL's coverage of Hawaii's health care crisis continues with a look at The Queen's Medical Center, the only hospital in the state that takes in critically ill and injured patients.

The doctor shortage puts trauma surgeons in a critical crunch. Trauma surgeons are stretched so thin, staff at The Queen's Medical Center say emergency care is hanging by the will and stamina of just a few people.

It's a doctor shortage so severe, trauma surgeons call it a crisis.

"I hate to say it but some days you think, gosh I hope I don't cut my thumb off because there's no one there who's going to be able to put it back on to call on in the emergency room," said Dr. Susan Steinemann.

Dr. Steinemann is one of only nine trauma surgeons at The Queen's Medical Center. She said the root of the doctor shortage is money.

"A lot of the trauma programs on the mainland are able to offer bigger salaries, and more time off, and more protected time for research, which most of do engage in research and teaching," she said.

Dr. Steinemann also says doctors leave the islands because malpractice insurance costs are high.

"It's expensive, and I think that's probably one of the reasons why medical students and young doctors shy away from these kind of these professions because you do have to deal upfront with the significant chance of being sued," she said.

With fewer medical students choosing to go into trauma care, Steinemann said the doctor shortage is going to get worse, not better. She said a solution lies in the hands of lawmakers and they need to mend the system using new legislation and funding.