Health officials scramble to bring in a record number of relief nurses from the mainland

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There’s a scramble to bring in a record number of nurses from the mainland after 20 hospitals from across the state report they’re in desperate need of help.

The request totals more than 500 healthcare personnel ― everything from emergency room and critical care nurses to respiratory therapists.

The goal is to get them to Hawaii and working by the middle of the month.

More than a year and a half into the pandemic, it’s not where registered nurse Tyler Sumner expected we’d be. “It’s a mix between frustrating and depressing,” he said.

Sumner works in the emergency department at Hilo Medical Center and says the staff is stretched to the limit. “We spend hours trying to find an open ICU bed for patients to be transferred,” said Sumner.

“And these are non-COVID patients.”

With hospitals already full of regular emergencies and coronavirus rapidly spreading in the community, he says he’s worried about what’s to come.

“It will reach a point if these numbers keep rising that your family members or your loved ones are not going to be taken care of the way they should be because the resources aren’t there.” Sumner said.

Hilton Raethel, the head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said every major hospital in the state has put in a request for reinforcements.

“We are looking at potentially bringing in two to three times the number of personnel that we had on the ground last year,” he said.

He says the record request equates to more than 500 healthcare workers, far surpassing what hospitals needed during the lockdown.

That first wave of reinforcements would work for eight weeks, spread out at facilities across the state.

“I was blown away when the numbers came in,” Raethel said. “The hospitals would not be asking for this unless they really needed it.”

Woo Ae Fabro is a nurse in the intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente.

“We are so short-handed in this COVID season,” she said.

Fabro says that she and her colleagues are constantly asked to work overtime. She added that many shifts so busy there’s not even time to eat.

“It’s a battle zone,” she said. “You get in there and you need to help these people. You can’t leave them alone. They’re that sick.”

Sumner said he’s grateful to those who’ve gotten vaccinated.

“Thank you,” he said. “We healthcare workers really do appreciate it. It definitely takes a weight off of our shoulders.”

If you haven’t gotten the shots he asks that you to reconsider as hospital staff are stretched thinner every day. “Do it for someone you care about,” he said.

Fabro added, “We need everyone to become the hero in the community. Roll up your sleeve.”

Raethel says the entire effort to bring in additional health care personnel is being paid for with federal funding from FEMA.

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