Sunday, January 08, 2012


Does Oahu have enough emergency room capacity for a real emergency?

by Larry Geller

Governor Abercrombie famously declared a couple of “states of emergency” in 2010—one suspending environmental laws to clear ordinance from Oahu’s beaches and another on behalf of nene—is it time for another, given the potential vulnerability of Oahu’s hospital infrastructure to collapse in the face of a real emergency?


Today’s giant headline story almost asked an important question about the state of Oahu’s emergency medical system. But it somehow didn’t follow through.

Yes, we’ve known about the ambulance diversions from overcrowded hospital emergency rooms since the closing of the two Hawaii Medical Center hospitals.

Yes, we know that ER staff are working overtime and extra shifts. This article recaps and adds detail to prior coverage. It indicates that the system is just barely coping. It also indicates that even a little VOG put a strain on current resources. VOG? What about a hurricane, airplane crash, or tour boat incident?

What if there should be a disaster, natural or otherwise, that requires more bed space, more ER capacity, more doctors on duty, than we have now?

That’s a question the newspaper didn’t ask. Or maybe, they did ask, as I have, and have not received any response.

I’ve emailed several people who should know, and who have responded in the past, with the question above, and received nothing in return. Now, that alone has no meaning. I wonder if the Star-Advertiser has been asking as well. No answer to a reporter’s question would be a thundering response.

West Oahu is particularly vulnerable. Adding a few ambulances, the present reaction, is not a perfect solution. Even without an emergency situation, a mother experiencing an unexpected birth complication (for example) needs to get to a hospital ASAP. There may not be time to fight notoriously bad Oahu traffic to Kapiolani Medical Center. We haven’t any handy statistics indicating whether deaths increased due to longer distance from ER services. How many additional babies will be lost?

Perhaps this is the time for state government to report on our ability to weather a crisis. Should the state, which went out of its way to declare an emergency for the sake of the nene, have considered the closing of the two hospitals to be a danger to humans and kept one or both of them open? Is it safe to just assume that this question was considered?

From the S-A article alone, knowing nothing else, it would be reasonable to conclude that Oahu’s emergency medical response system is unprepared for even a moderate emergency. If this isn’t the case, then someone needs to say so.  If it is, we need to see at least the same level of urgency the state bestowed on our endangered state bird, or to keep street people out of sight of APEC delegates.


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