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Staffing already stretched thin as Hawaii hospitals gear up for flood of new admissions

Top stories from across Hawaii and around the world, as seen on the 6 p.m. news broadcast from Hawaii News Now.
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 3:40 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2021 at 4:05 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s hospitals are nearly full. But it’s not because of COVID.

On Wednesday, there were close to 2,200 patients being treated at facilities statewide for other ailments and emergencies. Currently, just 3% of the people hospitalized are sick with the coronavirus.

Even with so few COVID patients, severe staffing shortages have hospitals struggling to keep up.

Health officials say Hawaii’s already brought in 200 traveling health care workers from the continent just to support the everyday demand.

Now, they’re preparing to bring in even more.

The head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii calls the staffing shortage the state’s hospitals’ biggest vulnerability.

“The challenge is the personnel,” said Hilton Raethel. “We are needing additional staff from out of state just to deal with the current loads we have right now in our hospitals.”

Currently there are 68 people hospitalized with coronavirus statewide.

But with a spike in the number of infections, Raethel says hospitals are gearing up for a rush of new admissions.

“The indications are right now this will be a significant surge,” he said. “We’ve already been talking to our oxygen vendors.”

Raethel says there’s a conservation plan in place. He added, if for some reason Hawaii’s two oxygen manufacturing plants can’t provide enough supply — there’s a third vendor lined up in California.

Officials say right now the state also have a good supply of personal protective equipment.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii is also making sure facilities have enough ventilators and that they’re working.

“We are working without hospitals to make sure all of the ventilators we have in the state are ready for use,” Raethel said. “They’ve all been serviced. We do have some on standby.”

Meanwhile, officials are urging people to get their booster shots.

“Currently about 25% of people in the hospitals are fully vaccinated which means they have two shots,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “But a lot of people, if it’s been more than six months since they got their shots they’re not fully immune anymore.”

Raethel added, “The good news is that people who are fully vaccinated, especially if they’re boosted, do much much better in terms of illness, hospitalizations and death.”

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii is also in the process of creating a proposal to request FEMA funding for additional hospital staff as well as for Hawaii’s long term care facilities.

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