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Honolulu ambulance provider overwhelmed by surge in emergency calls

By Kristen Consillio

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Samson Juan’s making about $27 an hour, training to be an emergency medical technician. He knows it’s a job that won’t be easy.

“Because of the shortage, we work a little bit longer hours, we work a little bit more so that kind of burns people out,” he said.

But he’s doing it anyway because, “it’s a way for me to give back to my community, getting to learn new things.”

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services is once again struggling to keep up with a surge in emergency calls. Over the past four days, EMS closed 39 ambulance shifts — due staffing shortages.

“This weekend was bad, and it’s probably the worst it’s been in a year,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department.

Emergency calls jumped to 350 a day from about 250 earlier in the year. Besides COVID, the flu and other viruses, EMS is responding to accidents, heart attacks and many non-emergencies from a growing homeless population.

That means longer wait times for patients desperate for help in emergencies.

“We had one ambulance over the weekend. They ran 22 calls in over 12 hours, and that’s really unheard of,” he said. “It’s taxing and it’s not sustainable to run that many calls on a shift.”

EMS says many employees are simply exhausted by the volume of calls. And more personnel are leaving the profession for better paying jobs. Honolulu’s emergency medical technicians earn between $52,000 and $67,000 a year.

EMS is contracting with private provider American Medical Response, or AMR, to add three ambulances a day as the department scrambles to recruit more workers. It also has a backup contract with the Federal Fire Department as a safety net.

More than 20 new recruits will be starting in the next few months, but the department’s still trying to figure out how to retain the personnel it already has.

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