Health officials prepare for possible oxygen shortage amid surge in COVID hospitalizations

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Oxygen, it’s what health officials have relied on as the most effective treatment for hospitalized COVID patients. Over the last month, hospitals have seen their supply empty as facilities operate near capacity.

Kona Community Hospital went from one oxygen delivery a month to four. The Healthcare Association of Hawaii says there are two liquid oxygen plants in Hawaii, and to meet the demand they’re changing operations.

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“They have shifted to exclusively producing medical grade oxygen, so both of these plants are operating at close to full capacity or full capacity and they run all day,” said Hilton Raethel, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president and CEO.

Meanwhile, other medical supplies like ICU beds are filling up. Hilo Medical Center is caring for 17 ICU patients, which is beyond their 11 bed capacity. According to Hi-EMA, 255 of the state’s 343 ICU beds are being used and backup ventilators are already being put to use.

“If we exhaust that supply, then we can move ventilators between hospitals and between islands,” Raethel said. “We can also bring in ventilators from the mainland if necessary. We don’t anticipate that that is necessary.”

Health officials also have a warning for Hawaii residents with the Labor Day weekend coming up.

“We are very concerned about potential drunk drivers, drownings, and other types of accidents that would pose an even additional strain on our facilities,” said Raethel.

Emergency Medical Services continues to work on overdrive with record breaking amounts of 911 calls.

“I looked at the 911 calls yesterday for Honolulu and at anytime of the day, up to a fourth or even a third of them were COVID calls,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, Honolulu Emergency Medical Services director. “Things like fever, shortness of breathe, and low oxygen.”

In the case there’s a busy week or holiday weekend, field hospitals are ready to deploy.

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“We are asking individuals to be mindful of the current strain on our healthcare system and on other parts of our infrastructure that are being stretched right now,” said Raethel.

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