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Hawaiʻi Health Care System 'Really Being Stretched' as COVID-19 Cases Increase

A tent is seen outside the emergency room at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Caleb Jones/AP
A tent is seen outside the emergency room at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

With a record number of COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend, health officials are trying to manage the growing number of hospitalized patients while preparing to scale up facilities to address an overflow situation.

Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, says at this point in time, Hawaiʻi still has capacity in the hospitals but the system is really being stretched — and it is not known if the hospitalizations have reached their peak yet.

"We're very concerned about the stress on our health care delivery system, this pandemic has been going on for 18 months now and it will go on at least for a few months, at some levels. We don't know exactly what those levels are going to be," he said. "That is a long time for a health care delivery system to be dealing with a pandemic because not only do we have the pandemic, we have all the normal things that happen — heart attacks or strokes, accidents."

The association represents a number of hospitals and health care facilities across the state dealing with a surge in patients. He said acute care modules, usually under tents, allow for some expansion capabilities.

"We can house approximately 100 patients in these acute care modules across the state if necessary," he said, adding that the tents are already being used for triage at Straub Medical Center and Queen's Medical Center, as well as on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island.

"You want to separate someone who's COVID positive, or potentially positive, from the rest of the population that's in the emergency room so that they don't get cross-contamination," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "If necessary, we can deploy these ACMs across the state for inpatient care. Now, they do require staffing so if you're going to use them for inpatient care, you've got to have staff."

He said over 500 clinical personnel are being brought to Hawaiʻi to maximize hospital capacity and help with the current surge.

Raethel said he attended a series of meetings over the last 72 hours with a variety of federal and state agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

"There are multiple initiatives that are being worked on simultaneously to help support the people of Hawaiʻi," Raethel said.

Click the "Listen" button to hear this full interview from The Conversation on Aug. 30, 2021.

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.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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