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COVID surge has abated, but there’s no rest for weary ambulance crews as calls keep pouring in

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 2:01 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 6, 2021 at 4:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you want to know how seriously ill COVID is making some patients, ask an ambulance crew.

In West Oahu, a third of all calls are from people sick with the virus and often EMS workers aren’t sure what they’re walking into.

“It’s been a year. It’s been a long year,” said paramedic Brent Shimabukuro.

Every shift, Honolulu EMS crews are left feeling drained.

“We’re still trying our best to get to everyone as fast as we can,” added paramedic Kameron Aceret.

It’s been one month since the peak of the pandemic’s latest surge and there’s been no relief.

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“Unfortunately at times we’re having people wait because of the call volume,” said Aceret. “There are just so many calls.”

That’s especially true for Oahu’s Waipio Unit.

“An average day. We kind of get pulled around a lot,” said Shimabukuro. “Kind of far places as well.”

Because of its central location, crews that work in the unit are often called on to help when the ambulance closest to an emergency has already been dispatched somewhere else.

“We are stretched thin,” Shimabukuro said.

On a recent shift, the Waipio unit responded to Kapolei, Kalihi, Waipahu ― even Nanakuli. Criss-crossing the island, covering upwards of 150 miles. And taking nearly a half hour to reach the most distant emergency.

“In town there’s a lot more variety of calls,” Aceret said.

But in Leeward Oahu, “I would say one out of three is a COVID positive patient.”

While the state’s daily COVID case counts are dropping the virus continues to ravage many west side communities.

“The thing that I’m noticing now as opposed to last year is people’s body language,” Shimabukuro said.

“The ones that kind of have a good idea they’re positive. The majority are unvaccinated. Then it’s just kind of a weird silence. They’re very short with their answers.

“I don’t know if it’s either regret or realization like ‘Oh, OK, this is something real.”

These days, crews are also responding to an increasing number of trauma cases.

With lockdowns a thing of the past, traffic accidents along with other every day medical emergencies are happening much more often.

“It is more strenuous,” said Aceret.

All total, Honolulu EMS was dispatched to more than 8,300 calls last month. That’s up more than 20% compared to September 2020 ― during the height of Hawaii’s first surge.

The figure number even tops pre-pandemic call volume, by several hundred emergencies a month.

The demand means some calls don’t get answered quickly.

“There are days where I see calls stacking up in the que,” Aceret said.

On top of that, hospital emergency rooms are still packed, which means crews can’t always get patients to the closest ER.

“It does have an impact on our transportation times,” said Aceret. “And the priority of where we’re putting the patients.”

They’re asking the community for patience and say while things may seem like they’re getting back to normal ― we’re not there yet.

“We’re still in it,” Shimabukuro. “But we’re making it work. We’ll be there for you folks. We just ask you guys to be safe.”

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