HONOLULU (KHON2) — Emergency Medical Services had to close half a dozen ambulance stations on Oahu Sunday, in addition to a number of other closures earlier that weekend. According to EMS, it’s all due to ongoing staffing issues.
They are the ones you rely on in a medical emergency. Their ability to respond quickly can mean the difference between life and death — yet EMS continues to close stations.
Honolulu EMS acting chief Christopher Sloman said they don’t like closing units.
Sloman said, “it’s unacceptable to close units. We do everything we can to avoid closing units.”
Sloman said last weekend closures were worse than normal.
Out of 21 stations, Friday they closed a total of six, Saturday a total of seven and Sunday a total of eight stations closed during the AM and PM shifts.
“The worst that it got was over Sunday,” Sloman explained. “Obviously it creates logistical problems for us. Whenever we don’t staff a station that creates a geographical area now where we have a void.”
The closures impacted a number of areas around the island, but Sloman said they didn’t run into any issues.
And average response times were less than a minute longer than normal on Sunday.
According to Sloman, American Medical Response, AMR, dedicated two ambulances to fill the gap.
The AMR Regional Director Speedy Bailey said they responded to about 48 calls Friday through Sunday.
According to EMS, one to two stations close daily due to staffing issue but they said they haven’t been hit this hard in the last six months.
“We’ve been able to decrease the number of daily closures on average but we’re still not out of the woods yet,” said Sloman.
He said they have 26 vacancies to fill just to keep up with the normal pace of things.
That shortage of workers, vacation requests, military leave and sick time all contributed to the forced closures last weekend.
And they continue to struggle with recruitment and retention.
“We’re struggling convincing people to stay. This is a tough job, its got a unique schedule. Its got high demands,” Sloman explained. “We’ve onboarded 40 individuals, we’ve lost 42 over the last six months.”
While a handful retired, he said most of those who left had been there less than two years.
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So they are trying to use incentives like education, pay and bonuses to recruit and retain more EMT’s and paramedics.