Ambulance breaks down on the way to 911 call, patient dies

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An EMS ambulance broke down on its way to an emergency call, and the patient died at the scene.

It’s a troubling scenario that’s raising questions about public safety. We’re learning that many of the vehicles are aging.

It’s hard to say if the ambulance breaking down actually contributed to the death of the patient. But just the possibility of it has at least one lawmaker looking to make changes.

On February 12, an EMS unit in Nanakuli responded to a call for a patient having trouble breathing in Maili. EMS says the ambulance experienced mechanical problems, but the crew did make it to scene. After advanced life saving protocols were followed, the patient died at the scene.

KHON2 asked how much longer it took to get to the patient because of the breakdown and whether that contributed to the death. A spokeswoman says EMS arrived in 17 minutes, which is two minutes later than required by the state. But the fire department arrived before EMS and began medical treatment.

“Shocking, I anticipate that anyone watching this report would indicate that there’s probably gonna be a lawsuit, a personal injury lawsuit to follow,” said Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Committee on Health.

At the city facility where vehicles are repaired we spotted seven ambulances sitting idle on Wednesday.

EMS says out of the 53 ambulances on Oahu, 23 of them have more than 200,000 miles. Some automotive experts say those vehicles can still be reliable but only if they’re properly maintained. 

EMS points out that it does not have its own repair crews whereas the fire and police departments do.   

EMS adds that it gets 1.2 million dollars a year from the state health department for new vehicles. An ambulance costs 220-thousand dollars.

Four new ambulances will be coming in this summer, and four more next year.

“Unfortunately over the years we’ve gotten more reactive and placing a Band Aid approach to EMS and ambulances compared to putting in a strong foundation and truly having a better healthcare safety system out there,” said Mizuno.

Mizuno says he’s pushing for bills that would give EMS more funding, and hopefully avoid any more ambulance breakdowns while on call.

According to the health department, funding has increased for EMS each year for the past five years. And EMS has the flexibility to use more money for ambulances.

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