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Hawaii Hospitals Appeal To FEMA To Help Staff Beds, Move Patients To Tripler

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The state’s hospital industry says it’s facing a crisis and has appealed to the federal government to help it staff critically needed beds.

Hawaii has reached 100% hospital capacity -- not for lack of space but because it doesn’t have enough personnel.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii which represents hospitals has been scrambling to deal with the current surge in new daily COVID-19 cases -- now consistently in the triple digits.

HAH President Hilton Raethel said while there are about 3,000 general hospital beds statewide, only about 2,000 can be staffed.

"We have a number of our staff who have either been infected by COVID-19 or they are in quarantine because they may have been exposed," he said.

"We've also had staff who have resigned. We have staff who have retired because of COVID-19. In addition to that, COVID-19 also requires more staffing or there's more nursing time that is needed. You have to spend time donning all the PPE, for example.

"Between all of those factors, the nursing load is actually increased because of COVID-19. So, while we normally staff about 2,000 beds, and we have adequate staff to do that, because of COVID-19. And because those factors I just mentioned, we actually need more staff and that's where we're running into a fairly critical situation right now."

He says about 100 healthcare workers statewide have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19 infection.

What hospitals need the most are nurses.

Raethel said he formally asked FEMA today to step in and provide relief through the military or National Guard.

"It has to go through levels of approval, then assuming it gets approved. Then they have to identify people, they have to activate them, those people have to make travel arrangements. So we're thinking it could take seven to 10 days just for that to happen. That’s assuming that the federal government does approve this ask.


"Now in the meantime, we are requesting as part of our ask that in those next 7 to 10 days, if needed, that we can transfer some patients or admit some patients to Tripler Army Medical Center ... because they have some capacity right now. But again, they need federal approval to be able to utilize that capacity."


Kauai and Hawaii Island have not yet exceeded its hospital capacity. But resources on those islands are so scarce it won’t be possible to move staff to Oahu and Maui where there’s more need.

Although Kauai and Hawaii island have not overwhelmed its hospital capacity yet, resources there are so scarce it isn’t possible to move staff to islands in more need such as Oahu and Maui.

Raethel explained because states across the country have been experiencing similar hospital staffing problems, it has been difficult to attract people to Hawaii.

Traveling healthcare professionals are also far more expensive to employ which is why it would not be

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room physician, explained that hospitals have made plans to help surge capacity like cancelling elective surgeries.

“If you're not doing a lot of heart operations, or knee operations or hip replacements, then you have number one, the surgical room to put patients in,” he said.

“You have an extra anesthesiologist, surgeons, critical care specialists that would normally be tending to someone who just had heart surgery, that can now help with COVID or help with respiratory distress cases.”

Raethel said some hospitals have started implementing this strategy.

As for if the new restrictions implemented have made an impact, Raethel thought it was still too soon to tell.

However, in order to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed cases would need to be in the low 100s or below. 

Ashley Mizuo is the government reporter for Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at amizuo@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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