HONOLULU (KHON2) — Having a baby is a major undertaking. So what happens when there aren’t enough doctors to help deliver them? That’s exactly what’s happening in Maui County. And doctors said it’s actually a much larger issue.
Babies are beautiful little bundles of joy. But pregnancy can be overwhelming if you can’t find a doctor to provide the necessary care.
“We’re having people crying in bathrooms because they’re so scared,” said Dr. John Vaz, CEO of the Malama I Ke Ola Health Center in Wailuku.
Vaz said Maui is dealing with a shortage of OB-GYNs able to deliver babies after a clinic that provided the service closed in April.
“It was pretty hard to pivot so quickly,” Vaz explained. “In terms of staffing and operations, because you got to balance that with, you know, continuing to give safe high quality care.”
The Lahaina fire and closure of another clinic in October only made things worse. Vaz said their staff of five, that managed to deliver an average 30-35 babies a month, were inundated.
“We weren’t able to meet what eventually hit us, which has been 60 to 65 average deliveries a month now,” he explained.
Dr. Men-Jean Lee, OB-GYN professor at the John A Burns School of Medicine, has been traveling to Maui to help fill the void even before the pandemic.
“We’ve doubled our efforts to come to do our ultrasounds and high risk pregnancy consults so instead of just once a month,” Lee explained. “I’m now going over twice a month.”
Lee said many patients are forced to change insurance plans and fly off island for care but it’s still not enough.
“Obviously once you go into labor you’re not going to be able to go on a plane,” Lee said.
The lack of adequate care also creates other financial hardships like a loss of wages, having to take time off work for travel and the cost of childcare for other kids in the house.
“It’s quite a burden on them and their families to come over and do these visits,” Lee said.
The issue isn’t just a lack of OB-GYN’s that deliver babies, she said there are shortages in several other medical fields.
“For instance, anesthesiologists, where you have to be on-call to provide anesthesia for the person having an emergency c-section or the person having an emergency appendectomy in the middle of the night,” Lee explained.
She said there are shortages in almost every specialized field of medicine on neighbor islands, and added there aren’t even enough pediatricians or primary care physicians either.
KHON2 News asked to know why.
“Part of it is the cost of living,” Lee replied.
She said it’s just not sustainable.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
Lee said JABSOM has been brainstorming trying to get the next generation interested in medicine, with the hope they will study and stay in Hawaii to practice and fill the need.