HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Hawaii Medical Center closed its emergency rooms in Ewa and Liliha last December, Oahu's remaining hospitals stepped up their staffing for an anticipated increase in ER patients. The number of those patients is now beginning to overwhelm those hospitals.
That's adding stress to emergency medical personnel in ambulances, who are being told, increasingly often, that they have to be rerouted away for hospital emergency rooms that are at capacity.
"We're seeing Kaiser take non-Kaiser patients. We're seeing Tripler (Army Medical Center) take non-military patients," said Dr. James Ireland, director of the city Emergency Services Department. "Everybody is stepping up, but it's just that there's a point where everything gets saturated, and we're close to that."
According to Ireland, as many as six of Oahu's nine hospitals were on a reroute status Wednesday. At least three were on reroute Thursday. The reroutes mean emergency medical technicians have to take care of patients longer.
There are more ambulances on the road, especially for West Oahu after HMC West in Ewa closed. Ambulance response times haven't been impacted -- yet.
"Taking an ambulance, for instance, out of the Waianae area means that another unit from another area may have to come into Waianae to respond to that call, and that might add precious minute to the response time," said Kelly Yamamoto, a district chief with the city Emergency Medical Services Department.
Ireland said you should still call 911 for an emergency, but people with less serious medical problems should consider using urgent care facilities instead. "There's a Kahala urgent care, there's Waikiki Family Practice, Doctors on Call, the Medical Corner," said Ireland. "A lot of communities have urgent care and for minor medical issues, those are perfect."
Lawmakers are also doing what they can. "Right now we have several pieces of finance bills that will allow places like Wahiawa Medical Center to expand and take more people in the emergency room," said state Rep. Kymberly Marcos Pine (R-Ewa, Iroquois Point, Puuloa). "We have special purpose revenue bonds to purchase Hawaii Medical West, should a buyer fall through." Pine is also trying to add another urgent care facility along the leeward coast.
Even with those measures it may be summer, at the earliest, before any relief will be in sight.