COVID surge strains Oahu’s EMS service, forcing some patients to wait for an ambulance

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 4:05 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 8, 2021 at 10:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The demand for ambulances is so high on Oahu there aren’t enough to respond immediately to every call and some patients are having to wait, EMS officials say.

“We’ve just been nonstop with calls,” said Honolulu EMS District 2 Field Operations Supervisor Jonathan Hong. “They’ve just been coming in one after another.”

Last week, Honolulu EMS transported a record number of COVID patients. A third of those calls came from the West Oahu district, which stretches from Waipahu to Makaha.

In the 22 years Hong has been with Honolulu EMS, he says he’s never seen anything like it.

“We’re so busy right now, calls are being stacked up,” he said. “People have to wait for an ambulance.”

Prior to the pandemic, Honolulu EMS would respond to an average of 250 calls a day.

Over the past month, call volume has jumped 32%. That means EMS crews are being dispatched to an additional 80 calls every day.

“There’s still a big amount of population here that are just sick from diabetes, chronic heart conditions stuff like that,” said Mobile Intensive Care Technician Jack Tausend.

With COVID on top of those calls, first responders are now treating people in respiratory distress just about every other call. “A typical shift, out of let’s say 10 calls, I would say at least half,” Tausend said.

Emergency Services Director Jim Ireland added, “We’re doing our very best to get you to the hospital expeditiously but the hospitals are also very busy, too.”

Meanwhile, emergency rooms are so congested EMS crews wait an average of 20 minutes to transfer care of a patient to the hospital, where beds are running short.

Frontline caregivers say it’s getting to a point where control the virus is the hands of the public.

“Our recommendation ... is to get vaccinated,” Ireland said.

Tausend added, “Know what the signs and symptoms are. And regardless of your vaccination status do your due diligence to isolate yourself and wear your mask.”

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