Thursday, March 15, 2012


Oahu likely in denial about hospital crisis—what if we have a real emergency?

" ‘They have worked very diligently, 24 hours,’ she said of the staff. ‘The breathing tube was removed (on Wednesday). He is awake and kind of feisty.’

Stem is waiting to be transferred to Oahu for reconstructive surgery, but there are no hospital rooms available, she said.

by Larry Geller

The sun is shining right now (well, right here, anyway, it could be pouring in Kailua). But there are no tornados, no hail. No roofs ripped off. It’s a beautiful day, with no crisis in sight.

Good thing, too. If there were one, could we cope?

The pull-quote above is from a story on the first page of the Local section of today’s Star-Advertiser, Kauai resident suffers flesh-eating bacteria (Star-Advertiser, 3/15/2012). He can’t be sent to Oahu for treatment because there are no hospital rooms available. Maybe I should put that in bold-face: He can’t be sent to Oahu for treatment because there are no hospital rooms available.

Farther back in the Local section, on the bottom of page B3, is news that might have been on the front page instead of Potholes Plague Isle Roads, the editor’s pick as the most important thing happening at the moment:

Hospitals diverting ambulances Tuesday were the Queen's Medical Center, Straub Clinic & Hospital, Kuakini Medical Center, Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center, Pali Momi Medical Center and Wahiawa General, Ireland said.

The number of hospitals diverting ambulances has fluctuated from two to six in the past five days, and each has been diverting patients off and on, with the exception of Kahuku Medical Center, [Dr. James Ireland, city Emergency Medical Services director] said.

[Star-Advertiser, Oahu hospitals divert ambulances, 3/15/2012]

These diversions, of course, are due to the closing of Hawaii Medical Center West in December.

HMC West, serving West Oahu, was the second busiest hospital in the state (the Queen's Medical Center is first) with 17 ambulances going there a day, Ireland said.

Ireland said ER beds at one hospital were filled with hospital patients who couldn't get a regular room.

So our ER beds are filled with patients who couldn’t get rooms, like the man on Kaui still being eaten by flesh-eating bacteria.

Another very troubling snip from this article:

Clairmont said there were no neighbor island patients awaiting transfer to Oahu hospitals on Wednesday.

Compare with the story two pages earlier that Oahu hospitals couldn’t accommodate this one guy.

Suppose one of the recent tornados had caused widespread injury. Where would they have piled the hospital patients now in the ER to make room for sudden emergency patients?

We also have no insight into how many patients might have died or otherwise been impaired due to the longer ambulance ride from central Oahu to the medical core in Honolulu. In particular, suddenly difficult childbirth situations must deal with heavy H-1 traffic to get to Kapiolani Hospital.

In December I sent several emails, including one to Toby Clairmont, director of Emergency Services for the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, and probably Hawaii’s foremost expert on emergency medical services. I received no replies. But then, this is only a little blog. He was quoted in the S-A article, but the issue wasn’t about our emergency preparedness in the event of a tsunami, storm, or other natural or man-made emergency.

Now, not receiving emails does not suggest that there is a crisis. But it does leave me with a number of newspaper and other media reports that suggest there is a valid question begging to be answered.

If disaster struck, media coverage up to this point suggests we are not prepared. I wonder if a real reporter might take up this subject. Suppose two dozen or fifty people were in need of emergency hospitalization. If there is no bed for one guy from Kauai in need of help, what will happen to many?

Unless the question is asked and answered, no one should feel that public safety is assured on Oahu or in Hawaii.  And one more question: The Governor has declared a state of emergency for lesser issues, should not the second busiest hospital on Oahu have been kept open?


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