EMS staffing shortage leads to units closing down on Oahu

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EMS units on Oahu are forced to shut down regularly because there aren’t enough workers, and it’s raising serious concerns about public safety. 

Added on to problems with old ambulances that are breaking down, some are calling it an emergency medical care crisis.

Workers say something needs to be done right now because it’s creating a domino effect. The shortage is burning them out, leading to more workers calling in sick.

A message was sent out to all EMS workers Sunday saying, “For tomorrow Monday March 25 we are looking for 13 people on the midnight shift to avoid closing multiple units.” 

Paramedics say this has become routine. In many cases, they’ve been forced to work past their 12-hour shift and instead wind up working 16 to 18 hours.

“Because of those excessive hours, people are calling in sick cause they’re actually physically becoming sick, which results in shutting down ambulance stations,” said a worker who did not want to be identified.

KHON2 has spoken to several workers who said the same thing. Six units were closed overnight, four units were closed the night before. That’s out of the 21 units island wide.

“The 911 system is taxed. We can’t handle this, we are breaking down right now. We want to do the best we can but with the strain and with the lack of resources, we won’t be able to do our job to the ultimate capacity that we’re trained to do,” said the worker.

EMS crews say management has taken several workers off the field, put them in office positions, and has not replaced them. So workers are getting burnt out and have no choice but to call in sick.

“I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to cause any further injury but you understand that fatigue does kick in at times,” said the worker.

EMS says there has been an increase of units closing in the past few weeks, and adds that EMS calls have steadily been increasing every year. 

Many of the units closed have been in Central or West Oahu, raising concerns for a councilman in the area. And he says we need to add more resources to EMS.

“If we don’t do that, I really believe that our city is facing an emergency medical care crisis and that we will have public health and safety issues and concerns that will have to be addressed in the future,” said Councilman Ron Menor.

EMS adds that it can control approved vacations and time off for training. But when it comes to sick calls, those they can’t control.

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