State abruptly cuts program seen as key to boosting number of paramedics trained in Hawaii

A Department of Health program to help "paramedics-in-training" has been cancelled, without notice.
Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 7:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state Department of Health program aimed at encouraging more EMTs to become paramedics was suddenly cancelled this summer, and onlookers say the move is expected to have an immediate impact on the first responder population.

The grant program started in 2007 and provided a monthly stipend of $2,000 to emergency medical technicians who signed up for the year-long paramedic school.

Kapiolani Community College on Oahu is the only approved paramedic training center in the state so the grant particularly helped those from the neighbor islands.

“It was a huge factor in my decision,” said Dwight Fujimoto, an AMR paramedic on Kauai who graduated from the program in 2019.

Fujimoto had to rent a place on Oahu, in addition to paying for his home on Kauai. He also had other living expenses that the stipend helped cover.

William “Speedy” Bailey, the general manager of AMR, said the decision to cancel the program is already having an effect on the paramedics in training.

Several are considering dropping out and returning to their home islands.

“There was not even an inkling that it was in peril,” Bailey said, adding that the state Department of Health never warned the public that the program would be cancelled on July 1.

In the past two years, a total 16 paramedics received the award.

Paramedic in training grant awards
Paramedic in training grant awards(None)

Danny Kao, a paramedic with AMR Oahu for 15 years, was one of the first to take advantage of the stipend and said it helped him cover lost wages since the training took him off the streets and limited his time as an EMT.

In 2019, then-Health Director Bruce Anderson signed an updated agreement that said the state is “responsible for assuring an adequate workforce for emergency medical services” and authorized using the stipend to do that. Paramedics are able to perform more lifesaving tasks than an EMT.

The advanced measures include the ability to intubate someone who cannot breathe, read the EKG and push medicine into an IV.

“As our population expands and our kupuna are getting older, we need this care,” said Kao who described an ambulance with a paramedic plus EMT as a “hospital on wheels”.

Fujimoto agreed, citing long transport times on Kauai.

“We have one major hospital on Kauai and sometimes the transport times can be over an hour,” Fujimoto said, adding that intubation or IV medication during the ride can mean the difference between life and death.

HNN Investigates did ask the state Department of Health to explain why they ended the program without notice and did not get an answer.