HONOLULU (KHON2) — The federal government is stepping in to provide more relief as more COVID-19 patients are being admitted to Hawaii’s hospitals.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii has emergency requests in from all major hospitals across the state for more staff.

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Queen’s Health Systems requested 140 nurses and respiratory therapists who are expected to arrive in the next week.

Health officials said Hawaii hospitals are down about 540 nurses.

“We have no padding for when something happens. So now we’re like in crisis mode already,” said Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association.

On Hawaii Island, Kona Community Hospital was one of the first to put in an emergency request.

“Things are literally blowing up and we are having emergency meetings for our infection control team to make sure we’re ahead of things, making decisions on how best to manage the flow of patient care and our staffing,” said Diane Hale, chief nurse at Kona Community Hospital.

FEMA is working with the State to bring in travel nurses. With the threat of the delta variant and an influx of both COVID and non-COVID patients, more help is needed compared to 2020.

“Last year on the ground at any point in time we had approximately 140 personnel,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of Healthcare Association of Hawaii. “So again, the ask this year is two to three times that.”

The emergency nurses must be fully vaccinated and will be restricted to working with COVID patients only.

“Our fast track area of our ER, we have dedicated to COVID symptoms. So they would help man in that area for us, then that would relieve our staff who we have currently in that area to manage those who are coming to the hospital for any other emergency,” Hale said.

University of Hawaii researchers said there is a lag between cases and hospitalizations. The extra help is needed now before it is too late.

“If we wait to take action until the lagging indicators, the ICU, the hospitalizations go up, it’s too late to do anything that’s more targeted and doesn’t require a more blunt response from policymakers,” said Dr. Thomas Lee, assistant epidemiology professor at UH Manoa. “Which is why we’re trying to really get ahead of it now.”

“If we have beds and not enough staff, we won’t be able to provide the proper care. So we’re looking at ways to be able to manage all deficits at this time. Again, we’re so grateful for the support that’s going to be coming our way,” said Hale.

The State and FEMA are working on contracts for the emergency nurses to get them to the islands as soon as possible. The funding will come from FEMA.