Honolulu EMS to expand 24-hour coverage, plans community paramedicine, academy programs
Honolulu EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland said that the agency has remained well-staffed and resilient despite the COVID-19 pandemic
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Honolulu Emergency Medical Services is expanding to include the Makiki and Ewa Beach ambulances in its 24-hour coverage beginning July 4.
The Ewa Beach and Makiki ambulances are the last two out of EMS' 21 ambulances that do not run 24 hours a day.
EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland explained that the expanded service would improve response times.
"When the Makiki ambulance goes out of service at midnight, the other downtown units have to make up for those calls, " he said.
"That ambulance is deep in Ewa Beach, so when they go out of service at midnight, the Makakilo unit has to come down to Ewa Beach, or the Waipahu unit. So I think it'll help both East and West Oahu, but especially West Oahu because of the distance."
Councilman Augie Tulba, who represents the Ewa Beach area, applauded the extended ambulance operations.
"We all know that EMS responding to a medical emergency makes a difference between life and death, " he said.
"My family and I live in West Oahu, and we are excited about the added boost in safety not only for my family, but families like yours in West Oahu."
Despite being affected by COVID-19, EMS Chief of Training Korey Chock assured that there would be enough staff to run the expanded ambulance service.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi praised EMS for its work throughout the pandemic.
"When you talk about how challenging the job may be, not just even during COVID, but just how taxing that is to go out there, " he said.
"You start to talk about the wear and tear on these people, and how hard these jobs are. There's really a lot to be said for that. It's really, really very commendable."
Acting EMS Chief Chris Sloman said the department did not see a mass exodus of employees due to the stress of responding to emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, some employees who planned to retire stayed longer at their posts to continue through the busy workload.
"Those retirements have since happened but they were planned, " he said.
"We have had a couple of people who COVID kind of helped them decide that EMS wasn't for them as a career, but those have been single digits."
The real impact COVID-19 had on EMS services was delaying training for new employees.
"We had to rework how we were doing training, how we got students through the ( Kapiolani Community College ) program. All those things never came to a complete halt ; they were delayed, " Sloman said.
"That kind of interrupted our normal flow of staffing progressions ... but we've been able to overcome all of those."
The department is working on a new emergency medical technician academy to increase its hiring. The department will hire new employees as EMT recruits and send them to Kapiolani Community College where they will be trained and hired upon completion of state and national exams.
EMS plans to begin the program in August and conduct a second class of recruits in early 2022.
Another initiative that Ireland said EMS was working on is the development of a community paramedic program, which would send paramedics in nonemergency settings in SUVs rather than ambulances.
"We hope that those paramedics will address what we consider the nonemergent calls, " he said.
"Someone still might need some type of care, but it might not be the traditional lights and siren, ambulance, full response."
EMS is looking to start the program within the next six to 12 months.
"We do have a disproportionate number of calls from our different homeless communities, and the community paramedics would be key there in addressing some of their social issues, rather than using 911 and emergency response, " Ireland said.
Currently, for nonemergency calls that EMS receives from people suffering from ailments such as hunger or gout pain, ambulances will respond without lights and sirens.
(c)2021 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser