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Oahu’s ERs are overrun with patients, but COVID is only part of the reason

Oahu hospitals are overrun with patients, officials say, and COVID is only part of the reason.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 4:14 PM HST|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 7:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu hospitals are overrun with patients, officials say, and COVID is only part of the reason.

A combination of staffing shortages and overall high patient volume are also contributing to Oahu’s packed ERs.

Over the past week, the state Department of Health confirmed nearly 9,000 new COVID infections in Hawaii and five more deaths. Data shows the case count is up more than 25% over the previous week.

The COVID figures don’t include positive at-home tests, and experts say community spread is prevalent.

Meanwhile, officials are sounding the alarm about just how busy hospitals are.

“They’re busy. And they’re getting busier,” said Honolulu Emergency Services Director Dr. Jim Ireland.

He says lately there’s been no rest for EMS crews.

“We’re seeing more calls. Because the tourists are back. But also more COVID calls,” Ireland said. “Fortunately they’re not critically ill but the volume is there.”

On Monday, a third of Oahu’s hospitals were on “reroute” because emergency rooms were so overwhelmed with patients.

“When a hospital goes on reroute or ambulance diversion what they’re saying to EMS is don’t bring any ambulance patients here unless they’re very, very critical,” Ireland said.

Everyone else has to be taken to another hospital that’s often farther away.

“It seems like we’re having more of an issue with reroute on the West side hospitals,” Ireland said.

Officials confirm the emergency room at Queen’s West Oahu was running at nearly double its capacity Tuesday. All total, there are 23 beds in that ER. At the height of admissions, there were 40 patients.

Those who didn’t have a bed were told to stay in the waiting room and in the hallway until they could be evaluated.

In-town ambulance units are running between 80 and 90% utilization.

“That means 80 to 90% of they time they’re actively running a call, actively taking care of a patient,” said EMS District Chief Jonathan Lee.

That’s well above the national standard. “Somewhere around 50 to 60% is considered a busy unit,” Lee said.

But unlike previous surges, only a fraction of the calls are COVID-related.

“It’s definitely not as bad as previous waves,” Ireland said. “Especially since there’s ample ICU beds.”

The Hawaii Nurses Association agreed.

Daniel Ross, president of the association, said the number of COVID patients who are currently hospitalized is manageable. He says a bigger problem is that existing staffing shortages are exacerbated because many frontline caregivers are out sick with the virus.

EMS wants to remind the public to only call 911 if you’re experiencing a true emergency.

Hawaii’s pandemic modeling group predicts the current COVID surge to peak next month.

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