EMS plans changes, may reevaluate 12-hour shifts as staffing shortages continue

Local News

The director of the City and County’s Emergency Medical Services says he is looking at possibly changing the department’s 12-hour shifts or making other shift changes to alleviate the staffing shortages.

EMS employees reached out to us via Report It over the weekend with concerns and frustrations regarding multiple ambulance closures.

There are 20 ambulance units in Honolulu and for every shift, two people are required to operate each unit.

But sometimes there aren’t enough people on staff to do that. When the department doesn’t have enough staff to run units, they have to close them, and it has happened multiple times.

It happened on Friday night from midnight to noon Saturday. This time, two units were closed for the entire 12-hour shift.

EMS director Mark Rigg tells us public safety was never in jeopardy.

“There is no evidence that any of these closures are jeopardizing patient care,” he said. “If response times are a little longer, keep in mind we have AMR as a backup contract. We have fire responding with us.”

Right now, there are approximately 235-240 employees in the department, and 16 open positions. Rigg says the department currently has nine employees going through orientation.

“We have staff that is scheduled to work shifts and scheduled for days off, and so on their days off, Monday through Thursday, they may want to make themselves for overtime,” he said. “But what is happening on the weekends is they want to have their weekends off and they are not making themselves available.”

“Is is the staff members who are calling in sick, or the managers that are approving too many vacations at the same time? What is the problem?” KHON2 asked.

“Inherently, it’s the total leave of family leave, emergency leave, sick leave, vacation leave, military leave, and long-time industrial leave,” Rigg replied. “Those numbers add up collectively and they go too high and we get to the position where we don’t have enough staff.”

In 2014, the city changed the schedule of EMS workers due to staffing shortages, long hours, and cuts in service. It was also supposed to help alleviate the problem with the closures.

“It was a solution to dropping our overtime and it did,” Rigg said. “It dropped our overtime by more than a million dollars.”

On average, ambulance units operating in town can average approximately 20 calls per day. American Medical Response responded to 11 calls during the two ambulance closures.

KHON2: Do you think with these new hires and the interviews that you are going to do in the next few months, do you think that is going to be the solution to this?

Rigg: I hope so.

KHON2: If it continues to happen, then what?

Rigg: We’ve got to talk to the UPW about looking at possibly changing the 12-hour shift agreement. Who knows? Maybe we have to look at other shift schedules.

According to the city’s website, there are also two rapid response vehicles for two districts, but Rigg says it was more important to staff ambulances that could transport patients instead, so they haven’t operated those since 2015.

We also reached out to the mayor multiple times for a comment, but spokesperson Andrew Pereira responded via email saying, “Dir. Mark Rigg is a member of the cabinet and I’m told he addressed your questions regarding this issue.”

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