Concern grows as EMS unit closures double in December due to staff shortages

Local News

It’s an issue that has been going on for more than a year, ambulance units closing because there are not enough people to work when others call in sick or go on vacation.

But it just seems to be getting worse.

In December alone, the number of shift closures more than doubled, according to EMS officials:

  • 3 closures at Makakilo unit, twice on Dec. 12, once on Dec. 16
  • 1 closure at Pawaa unit, Dec. 17
  • 1 closure at Waianae unit, Dec. 17
  • 1 closure at Waipahu unit, Dec. 17

EMS officials say when one of these units shuts down that means the next closest unit will cover the area. Firefighters can also respond, but councilmembers KHON2 spoke with say that’s unacceptable and the units should not be closing.

“We cant be taking chances with things like this because people’s lives are at stake,” said councilwoman Kymberly Pine.

“These kind of delays could be life threatening and catastrophic,” added councilman Ron Menor.

Four closures were reported earlier in the year:

  • 1 closure at Pawaa unit, Aug. 9
  • 1 closure at Wailupe unit, Oct. 18
  • 2 closures at Wahiawa unit, Oct. 18 & Nov. 2

“The fact that a large number of ambulance units were closed raises serious concerns,” said Menor. “They need to stay open.”

“No matter what the situation that caused the staff shortage the city needs to be able to handle the situations. It is absolutely unacceptable for any area on the island to have a closure of an ambulance,” Pine expressed.

So what’s the answer to fix this ongoing problem?

In a statement EMS Director Mark Rigg said:

“The solution to preventing unit closures involves further discussion with the employers union on how to balance the rights of the employee with our service to the community.”

While EMS is a city-run department, it also receives funding from the state, which could be another key to solving the problem.

“So we definitely need the support from our state leaders and I think if they are given the information about staff shortages and our frustrations with being unable to handle worst case scenarios I think they will be very supportive,” Pine said.

But until more money can be obtained, the issue could persist and that is why councilmembers say they are going to be discussing how to fix the problem in the meantime.

“I want to look into this as the chair of the public safety committee with the city council to look into the matter further and to get assurances from EMS officials that when ambulance units are closed that the health and well being of our residents is not being jeopardized,” Menor said.

Both councilmembers told KHON2 that this issue will be brought up in the council’s public safety committee meeting next week.

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