As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Hawaii Hospitals Plan For Day They Exceed Capacity

Aug 13, 2020

Some Hawaii hospitals are getting hit harder than others with the surge in COVID-19 cases. But the Healthcare Association of Hawaii that represents hospitals has a plan: it will re-distribute patients if needed so facilities aren’t overrun.

Hilton Raethel, the president of the Healthcare Association, says hospitals like The Queen’s Medical Center on Punchbowl Streeet are feeling more stress than others.

"If a COVID-positive patient shows up at Queen's West, they are being transferred to Queen's Punchbowl. So Queen's Punchbowl is actually accepting COVID patients from two hospitals. So that's another reason why Queen's Punchbowl is under a fair amount of stress at this point in time," he said. "Another one is simply because it's a location downtown. It's close to where a lot of people are. And so it's a shorter trip for ambulances."

Raethel says his group has been planning with hospitals to move patients among them -- just in case certain facilities need that help.

He says one option would be to call on Tripler Army Medical Center.

"Now, they generally do not serve the civilian population. They deal with active duty military, they deal with VA patients, they can take some trauma cases as necessary. So they have capacity. So, for example, if there's a VA patient at another hospital that could be transferred to Tripler. That's one option that we're working on right now, because Tripler does have some capacity at this point. They're part of the solution now."

He says the hospitals are still developing what specifically would trigger patients to be transferred.

Dr. Melinda Ashton is chief quality officer at Hawaii Pacific Health. It operates several hospitals, including Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children and Pali Momi Medical Center.

She says her group’s hospitals aren’t feeling overwhelmed yet. But the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is concerning.

"The continued numbers of triple-digit days would certainly get to be more and more stressful," she said. "We also know that this disease takes a little while to recover from for many, and so they don't go home quickly. And so you begin to put more and more people into hospital beds and then you do run out at some point."

Raethel says one reason Hawaii has kept its COVID-19 death rates so low is because hospitals have been able to give seriously ill patients their full resources. That may not be the case if hospitals reach maximum capacity.

COVID-19 hospital admissions have already doubled over the last two weeks. That’s why Raethel says it’s imperative to keep cases from rising and prevent hospitals from being swamped.