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In worrisome trend, overwhelmed hospitals are diverting ambulances to other facilities more often

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 4:36 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:04 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A combination of rising COVID cases and other emergency health issues are forcing many Oahu hospitals to turn ambulances away, diverting them to other facilities.

“It’s not unusual for a hospital to go on reroute from time to time,” said Jim Ireland, director of the Emergency Services Department.

What’s troubling is that it’s happening more often.

“We’ve seen now some hospitals on Oahu go on reroute for 12-24 hours at a time,” Ireland said. “We’ve seen up to six hospitals at the same time go on reroute. That’s within maybe the last week or two.”

[Related coverage: Experts: COVID now spreading more quickly among Hawaii’s unvaccinated]

When a hospital goes on reroute and ambulances are diverted, it means the facility doesn’t have the resources to help anyone else.

“That can be because they have too many patients in the ER. They’re boarding patients, meaning patients are staying in the ER that can’t get a room upstairs. Or there is some other type of internal disaster,” said Ireland.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said hospitals being overwhelmed is not specifically the result of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We have 72 people in the hospital right now,” he said. “Last August, we had over 300 individuals in the hospital with COVID.”

But with the lockdown lifted and the return of visitors more people are finding themselves in need of medical help.

“There are more medical incidents happening. There’s more traumatic incidents,” said Ireland. “So the hospitals are full of normal stuff.”

When you add an uptick of COVID cases to the mix, “their length of stay is generally longer than a regular patient,” said Ireland.

“So if hospitals can’t discharge people because they’re all sick, there’s just no room at the inn.”

What’s happening on Oahu impacts Neighbor Islands, too.

“So a lot of times you don’t have a specialist you might need and that results in a transfer. If that other hospital is filled you simply can’t do the transfer,” Green said.

“So you have to consult with individuals on the phone and do your best.”

For a time Wednesday morning, a total of four Oahu hospitals were diverting ambulances to other facilities.

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