HONOLULU (KHON2) — As the number of COVID-19 patients at hospitals goes down, some of the travel clinicians who arrived early on will begin phasing out, but the nurses union cautions not to rush the process.

Hawaii reached its highest peak of coronavirus hospitalization in early September. That trend is now way down as the eight-week contract for FEMA nurses who arrived Aug. 16 expires soon.

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The Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel said some of the nurses are being asked to stay on.

“Fourteen of those have been asked to extend and are willing to extend,” Raethel said. “Then the next week, the week of August 23, we had 201 staff come in. Of those, 97 have accepted an offer to stay on.”

Raethel said more than 720 travel staff arrived in Hawaii to support 19 medical facilities using FEMA funding that expires on Nov. 13. Travel clinicians who remain on the job beyond that date will do so at the expense of hospitals.

The Hawaii Nurses Association President Daniel Ross said he has seen efforts from facilities to beef up staffing.

“Hopefully they’ve learned and they will keep enough travelers on,” Ross said. “What I would like to see, eventually no travelers, and have enough of our core people hired up.”

But even with COVID trends lower, hospitals remain full. Facilities are scheduling some of the non-urgent procedures that were delayed during the summer.

“We have a smaller number of COVID patients than we’ve had, still 180, but we have a significant number of other patients that are in our hospitals as well,” Raethel said.

Now that acute care facilities are faring better, Ross said focus should be directed towards skilled nursing homes where staffing continues to be an issue.

Ross said, “They are still not getting the help there — that’s a disaster that is building.”

Raethel said attempts to secure more funding for long-term care facilities have not been successful.

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“We’ve really been trying, and we tried different avenues. We’ve tried a number of different approaches,” Raethel said. “And we have not been successful. We have been trying this for a couple of months now.”