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Honolulu Emergency Services 'Right at the Edge' of Crisis Mode

Honolulu EMS

This week, HPR's The Conversation is checking in with Hawaiʻi's mayors as the COVID-19 surge continues. State officials reported 460 new cases and 324 hospitalizations Tuesday.

Starting off the week was Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi who shared some troubling news about the strain on emergency services.

He stressed that when people get sick, they do not get sick alone.

"If they're really sick, they're calling ambulances and wanting to go into hospitals. And there's a reality to that because that's a finite resource for us. That's what we're begging people to try to understand," he said.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi - Aug. 16, 2021
The Conversation

If the situation continues to deteriorate, he said there have been preliminary discussions about loaning available firefighters to ambulance teams.

Honolulu Emergency Services said there are about 100 firefighters who have either an emergency medical technician or a paramedic license. In addition to trying to tap firefighters, EMS administrators and retirees are also in the mix.

"We want to have all options on the table if, over the next one to six weeks, the situation with COVID deteriorates and we don't have enough ambulances to answer all the calls or enough personnel," said emergency services director Dr. Jim Ireland.

Ireland said Monday the department is “right at the edge" of a crisis mode.

"There were some times over the weekend where there were 28, 29 calls for ambulances, and normally we only have 21 ambulances," he said. "That means some of those don't get responded to right away."

Over the last two weeks, the department has seen increasing calls for COVID-related problems such as low oxygen levels, fever, chills, and shortness of breath, Ireland said.

Staff fatigue has also increased as COVID-19 cases surge.

Emergency workers are used to relatively short bursts of high-intensity work, he said, and the pressure of the Delta variant has transformed the situation.

"Now this has been 18 months. Nobody can do that amount of work over prolonged periods of time and I think people are getting exhausted," Ireland said. "This has been a prolonged disaster if you will."

Click the "Listen" button to hear Jim Ireland's interview from The Conversation on Aug. 17, 2021.

Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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