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Hawaii hospitals catching up on postponed procedures, but Hilo still grappling with COVID patients

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 1:54 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:23 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii hospitals are beginning to catch up on postponed procedures as COVID hospitalizations have dropped 70% over the past five weeks.

But in Hilo, dealing with very sick COVID patients remains a challenge.

On Tuesday morning, Hilo Medical Center’s intensive care unit was nearly 40% over capacity. Hospital officials say the majority have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

“Our ICU has 11 beds. Currently, we have 15 ICU level patients,” said Hilo Medical Center Infection Control Manager Chad Shibuya. “Cases in the community are down. Unfortunately, patients who come to the hospital for COVID stay a really long time. Usually over 20 days.”

He says rooms had to be converted into makeshift ICU units so there would be space to care for all the patients ― nearly 70% of whom were diagnosed with COVID.

Statewide, hospitals remain busy. But officials say the vast majority are in a much better place than they were a month ago.

The challenge now: Addressing backlogs in care.

“Straub and Pali Momi ― their ICUs are still quite full,” said Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

But he said that’s partly due to pent-up demand for medical procedures that were postponed over the past couple months because of the COVID surge.

“We’re still working through all of those cases,” he said.

Raethel also confirmed that there’s a renewed push to hire more medical staff.

“We started the pandemic with a shortage of clinical staff in certain areas. The pandemic has exacerbated that,” he said.

There are currently 700 traveling nurses in the islands who were flown in from the continent to help Hawaii caregivers handle the latest surge.

They are scheduled to return to the mainland the middle of next month.

Shibuya says that’s why “the message hasn’t changed. We still really want people to get vaccinated. Even though the vaccinations are not a 100% cure for COVID, they really do prevent serious illness.”

As of Tuesday, 69.6% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated.

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