Understaffing for the City and County of Honolulu’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has become a chronic problem.
Ambulance units have to close for a shift because no one is available to run it.
Then in July 2014, we were told the department was understaffed and a 12-hour shift pilot program was launched in an effort to resolve the issue.The problem continued in May 2015, when four Oahu ambulances temporarily couldn’t be used due to personnel on leave, which could mean that too many people called in sick or took vacation.
But again, just months later, in December 2015, KHON2 reported the problem was still getting worse.
In 2016, there’s yet another staffing problem.
Two ambulances were out Friday night from midnight to noon Saturday. KHON2 learned that American Medical Response (AMR), a medical transportation company, was hired to fill in and responded to 11 calls during that time.
An audio recording provided to KHON2 through a source: “All hospitals are open, unlike Makakilo and Baker 1, so please pace yourself tonight. Take it a call at a time. It may be a little tedious for the next 12 hours, but you guys can handle.”
KHON2 played the recording for City Coucilmember Ann Kobayashi, who told us EMS was given a budget for more staffing.
“We are talking about public safety. We are talking about peoples lives,” Kobayashi said.
If ambulances, like Baker 1 based out of Queen’s and Makakilo are out for the night, then it puts a strain on other units that have to come to these areas to respond to those calls.
Taxpayers also paid American Medical Response to respond to emergencies while those two units were out.
Kobayashi told KHON2 AMR calls are approximately $600 per call.
The city budgeted about $400,000 for AMR this year, the same amount that was spent last year.
“This is a serious matter, public safety is one of the core issue of the city, I don’t know what happened to the leadership,” said Kobyashi.
A spokesperson for EMS says the department needs to hire more people.
KHON was told there are 20 units that service Oahu. That means only two people per unit.
“I’m guessing that if they did need more resources, and funding from the state of Hawaii. They would let us know,” said Sen. Will Espero.
Funding goes through the State Department of Health, but the City and County is responsible for manning and providing staffing for the ambulances.
“The mayor is at the top of the chain. We have to make sure that the leadership is there to ensure public safety is a priority,” said Kobayashi.
KHON2 sent Kobayshi’s remarks to the Mayor’s spokesperson for an opportunity to comment. Here is the response.
“Considering that Kobayashi endorsed the mayor’s opponent and is actively campaigning for him, this is a matter for mayor’s campaign. I’ll ask them to get back to you.”
— Jesse Broder Van Dyke
We contacted the campaign spokesperson, and they have not responded.
EMS also says, since switching to the longer 12-hour shifts, employees are no longer forced to work overtime.
We are told there are days when they have extra people, so that means sometimes there are 21 ambulance units on Oahu. We also requested an interview with the EMS director and will follow up when we learn more.