As cases soar, COVID staffing shortages force some Oahu ambulance stations to temporarily close

The staffing shortages have forced some ambulance stations to temporarily close.
Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 4:54 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 200 Oahu first responders were out Tuesday either because they’re infected with COVID or they’re in quarantine, the city confirmed.

That includes:

  • 56 employees of the Honolulu Fire Department;
  • 137 police department personnel (of those, 121 are officers);
  • 20 EMS workers;
  • and 13 lifeguards.

While a Honolulu Police Department spokesperson said there have been no impacts to calls for service, officials say staffing shortages at EMS have led to temporary shutdowns of some ambulance stations.

Nearly 10% of the department’s employees were out of work Tuesday because of COVID.

Officials say prior to this week, the most coronavirus call-outs to happen on a single day was three.

“Rather than run short we’ve been doing everything we can to keep ambulances open,” said Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu’s Emergency Services Department.

Despite his title, Ireland has lately been putting his EMT license to use ― helping cover shifts so stations aren’t forced to close.

“I worked in Kailua over the weekend,” Ireland said. “And then Wailupe last night.”

He says on average COVID call-outs by staff are causing one to two station closures a day. The most was five on Christmas Eve. To get by, staff are being asked to work overtime and part-time employees are being offered more hours.

The city is also working with its back-up provider, American Medical Response.

“They’ve dedicated two ambulances to the city daily,” Ireland said. “So if we have a unit or two down, those extra two from the private company help us manage our call volume.”

Just off a 12-hour shift, Ireland says hospitals are feeling the pressure from this latest surge.

“All the ERs were pretty stressed. The staff was stressed. The ERs were full. They were holding patients,” he said.

Meanwhile, Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel says the state is working to bring in more than 700 frontline caregivers from the continent.

“We’re very concerned about what might happen in the next one to two weeks,” he said.

The first wave of at least 100 personnel are expected to arrive Jan. 10.

“We will bring them in as quickly as we can get them,” Raethel said.

“But it also depends on what the severity is. And if numbers continue to increase at the rate they’re increasing right now then we’ll bring more in sooner.”

Ireland says 18 EMT academy graduates just got licenses Monday.

Nine paramedics also graduated in December. The department is working to expedite their evaluations. Ireland says he hopes to have them on the road soon.

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