With ERs on Oahu packed, ambulances are stacking up outside rather than responding to 911 calls
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hospital ERs are filling up across Oahu and that’s having a domino effect on Honolulu EMS. Officials say ambulances are experiencing long waits to transfer patients, sometimes up to an hour.
And the situation isn’t expected to get any better in the short-term.
Calls for Honolulu EMS hit record highs in recent months. There were 9,049 in April and the summer months could be even busier, taxing emergency room departments further.
When paramedics and EMTs are waiting at an ER to transfer patients, they call it “holding the wall.”
Dr. Jim Ireland, director of Emergency Services, says larger infrastructure problems are partly to blame.
“Our hospital system, unfortunately, just isn’t as robust as it was 10 years ago,” he said. “The loss of St. Francis in Liliha, some of the hospitals have downsized their inpatient capacity, and they’re just working as hard as they can.”
When ambulances are waiting at emergency rooms, it means they’re not available to respond to calls.
And that’s a problem when there’s a limited number of ambulances available.
Honolulu EMS has 22 ambulances.
A contract with AMR can add up to 13 with an additional four from the Federal Fire Department if needed.
That maxes Oahu out at 39, but there have been days recently when up to 10 ambulances have been parked outside ERs waiting to transfer patients.
“When we’re tied up at the hospital or the ambulance is tied up at the hospital, there are no ambulances for the community,” said EMS paramedic Adam Ogden.
The good news: There are ER expansion plans in the worlds.
The Queen’s Medical Center is launching a major expansion project that will more than double the number of bed spaces in the ER at the Punchbowl location, bumping it up from 40 to 90.
“Queen’s cares for about half of patients in Oahu, who come by ambulance at our two facilities,” said Dr. Rick Bruno, president of the Queen’s Medical Center.
“We’re the Level 1 trauma center. We’re the only comprehensive stroke center. We’re the only transplant center.”
The project is expected to take at least a year and a half.
Queen’s is also looking to expand its West Oahu location.
A renovation project at Straub Medical Center, meanwhile, will nearly triple the size of its current facility and includes expanding the emergency department.
Until the expansions can happen, though, the backup continues. That’s why EMS is working to transport patients with minor injuries or illnesses that don’t need the level of care of an emergency room to clinics instead.
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