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More patients are in Hawaiʻi hospitals than at any point during the pandemic

FILE - A nurse checks on IV fluids while talking to a COVID-19 patient in Los Angeles, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Jae C. Hong/AP
FILE - A nurse checks on IV fluids while talking to a COVID-19 patient in Los Angeles, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

More patients are in Hawaiʻi hospitals right now than at any point during the pandemic, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

The head of the group representing the state's hospitals said Tuesday it means there's a “new normal” when it comes to the number of patients.

"Today we have a new record census in this state. Today we have 2,554 patients in our hospitals across the state," CEO Hilton Raethel said.

He said that's not because of a rise in COVID patients — there are only 65 — but due to an aging population and increased severity of medical issues.

Raethel said the average number of patients has gone from fewer than 2,000 a day in 2020 to nearly 2,200 last year — and has moved even higher this year.

“For the first 10 months of this year, we've had over 2,300 patients in our hospitals. And in the last seven days, we've had five days over 2,500 patients. So again, what we're seeing is a new normal where we have many more patients on any given day than what we were experiencing pre-pandemic," Raethel said Tuesday.

He said increased demand requires more medical staff — more than is locally available. Right now, on any given day, there are about 600 traveling nurses working in the state.

Raethel said long-term solutions to reduce the number of traveling nurses will require closer cooperation between both the public and private sectors.

"Even though there's a job here waiting for them, they're still relocating to the mainland. And we're working to figure out how to try and address that," he said.

Though Hawaiʻi pays the second highest salaries for nurses in the nation behind California, Raethel said the cost of living makes it a challenge to remain competitive.

"One of the biggest reasons for people either leaving the state or not wanting to come to Hawaiʻi is the cost of housing. We're already having discussions with the governor-elect and his team and the mayors and there's developers. A lot of people are interested in solving this problem," he said.

The association said it is about to expand its training programs and roll out a glide path for workers to maintain their jobs while obtaining more credentials.

"Until we can get our own staff grown and trained, we're going to continue to need the travelers because we just don't have enough. We're not staffed in Hawaiʻi for 2,500 patients a day. So it's an incredible challenge for our hospitals," Raethel said.

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