Stretched thin: The average Oahu paramedic responds to 15 calls a day

Stretched thin: The average Oahu paramedic responds to 15 calls a day
Published: Nov. 13, 2017 at 10:47 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2017 at 5:13 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

City Councilman Ernie Martin wants to tap federal funds to pay for more ambulances.

A resolution by Martin urges the city to buy four new ambulances using federal block grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Martin said his resolution was prompted by a recent report by veteran investigative journalist Matt Levi, who found that the average paramedic on Oahu handles 15 calls during a 12-hour day.

Levi's investigation also found that Emergency Medical Services crews were stretched thin and that people in need were waiting longer for ambulance services.

"I'm worried … I'm sure for any person, any son, any daughter who is concerned for their parents and their children and their grandparents would want as quick a response as possible," said Martin.

The city's ambulances are funded by the state Legislature. But each year, when the request comes in for more money for new ambulances, it's given less priority and the bills fail.

A new ambulance, including equipment, costs about $350,000.

State Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona) said he's in favor of Martin's resolution, given the Legislature's long-standing reluctance to increase funding for ambulances.

"I'm frustrated we can spend three days and come up with $2.4 billion for rail. And we can't otherwise spend a couple weeks at the Capitol and find out ways to protect people from heart attacks, strokes, other illnesses from long waits to get to the hospital," said Green, who is also an emergency room doctor.

According to the city, there are some restrictions on the use of the federal money for ambulances.

Unlike fire vehicles which are considered public facilities, ambulances are considered public service activities.  Because of that, no more than 15 percent of the city's annual HUD block grant money can be used such for ambulance services.

The ambulance service also must benefit all residents in a particular area, where at least 51 percent of the residents are low- and moderate- income.

"Based on the number of ambulances compared to fire vehicles, the service areas of ambulances is larger than service areas for fire vehicles. As a result, it is more difficult to meet the requirement that at least 51 percent of residents in the service areas are low-moderate income persons," said Nelson Koyanagi, director of the city Budget and Fiscal Services Department.

Martin's resolution will be heard by the city Council next month.

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