By Ramsay Wharton
LILIHA and EWA (HawaiiNewsNow) - "We're just trying to be the safety net for the community to make sure that all their needs are being addressed as they roll up," said Kelly Yamamoto, a District Chief with the City & County of Honolulu's Emergency Medical Services.
Posted signs warned the public, then at 7 o'clock Monday morning the doors to both Hawaii Medical Center's Ewa and Liliha emergency rooms were closed to the public. No doctors inside, but paramedics were outside.
"It's a crisis for everyone and everybody is just kind of trying to do their part and make sure that our community is well cared for," said Yamamoto.
Paramedics were there to provide triage or to call for an ambulance if needed. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) hasn't brought anyone to HMC ERs since Friday and it's beefed up its ambulance presence in the community to help.
Yamamoto said, "We've opened Nanakuli for an additional eight hours, so they are a 24-hour unit. Also, we've opened a 16-hour unit out on the West side based out of the Makakilo ambulance unit, and also we've increased services in town so we have an additional 16-hour ambulance unit in town."
While Hawaii Medical Center's ERs are shut down and the hospital transfers out patients, there are some things that are open on the campus' near the hospitals, for example, the physicians buildings are open for business, the dialysis center, and the labs on both the East and West sides are open to the public.
Physician Russell Kelly, whose practice is inside the Saint Francis Medical Plaza West building, says patients have been worried and confused by media reports as to what's staying open.
"There are approximately 36 professional offices, a laboratory as well as a pharmacy in this building. And we are not associated with the hospital," said Kelly. "We are remaining open." Kelly added that, "We have the clinical services center which is associated with the hospital that looks like a sister building that is open and functioning, the dialysis center, and as far as I know, the hospice is still open and functioning. It is only the hospital itself that is affected by this closure."
"We're doing everything to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks on this one," said Yamamoto.
EMS Director, Dr. James Ireland noted that the private ambulance company, American Medical Response (AMR), is handling the transfer of patients from HMC's hospitals to other medical center's on Oahu for care.
Privately, some HMC employees told me they're disheartened by the coming layoffs and closure of both hospitals, especially during the holiday season. One woman told Hawaii News Now she just got paid in time for Christmas, and was going to start looking for other work soon.
Hawaii Medical Center spokesperson, Kris Tanahara, said financial arrangements have been made to ensure all employees are paid for all hours worked up until the last day of their employment. No official final day has been given, but the company has reported it would happen over the next two to four weeks.
"The hospital and its supporters have gone through a couple of years of very difficult times," said Kelly. "And due to our best efforts, we're still not able to help this hospital survive the recent economic situation. So we're all very disheartened by it but we're hopeful for a brighter future and that a good buyer will come along and perhaps reopen this facility to serve our public here in Hawaii."
Because of the ER closures, other Oahu hospitals are picking up the slack.
"Hawaii Pacific Health has been monitoring the recent closure of the emergency departments at Hawaii Medical Centers East and West. As with other hospitals on Oahu, our emergency rooms are prepared to accommodate additional patient volume at each of our facilities," said Jen Chahanovich, Chief Operating Officer with Pali Momi Medical Center in a statement released Monday.
Chahanovich continued, "We have increased our staffing and physician coverage at Pali Momi Medical Center to accommodate emergency cases that would have gone to HMC West. Additionally, as the state's largest health care provider, we are able to seamlessly transfer patients between Pali Momi and our sister facilities Straub Clinic & Hospital and Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children and to other hospitals on Oahu as well."
"We want to reassure our community that Hawaii Pacific Health is prepared to accommodate an increase in emergency patients at all of our Oahu facilities," stated Chahanovich. "We are saddened by the impending closure of Hawaii Medical Centers East and West and will continue to collaborate with others in our health care community to ensure that everyone who needs medical care will receive that care."
Hawaii Pacific Health officials say no official negotiations are underway to acquire the bankrupt HMC hospitals and their assets from its largest creditor, St. Francis Healthcare, but the company is monitoring the financial situation closely. HPH Chief Executive Officer, Chuck Sted said, "We continue to stay in touch with the debtor, secured creditors and unsecured creditors to determine if we are able to play a role in the future of these facilities."
In the meantime, members of the medical community and the public are hoping something good will come from the crisis.