New COVID-19 cases are declining, but hospitals continue to grapple with nursing shortage

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite a recent decline in the number of new coronavirus cases, hospitals continue to struggle to meet current needs because of a shortage of local nurses.

Healthcare experts say Hawaii’s hospitals remain at 100% staffed bed capacity.

“That means we are essentially deploying all the resources we have in the state,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel.

Hospitals say they’re using more reinforcements from the mainland to help alleviate some of the stress.

On Wednesday morning, 15 ICU nurses deployed by the federal government started work on Oahu. They’re picking up shifts at both the Queen’s and Kuakini medical centers for the next two weeks.

The good news: Scores more are on the way to relieve Hawaii nurses who have had to work exhausting hours, pulling double shifts to ensure every patient is taken care of.

In addition to the team of federal ICU nurses already on the job, another 21-member group will be deployed to Kuakini and Queens later this week. The next wave is expected to arrive the week of Sept. 20.

“We are still at a very critical stage in terms of our ability to take care of all of our patients in Hawaii,” said Raethel. “We’re working with the Department of Health and the state to bring in between 150 and 200 additional workers. They will be deployed on Oahu, on Maui and Hilo as well.”

In addition to nurses, a handful of respiratory therapists are also being brought in. Their arrival will be staggered between now and the end of the year.

“We are concerned that there could be another surge,” said Raethel. “Even though infection rates have come down, we’re not through that cycle of potential hospitalizations yet.”

There are 240 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized statewide.

Fifty-three are in the ICU and 40 are on ventilators.

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