Leaders Pushing For Interim Care

In response to concerns by residents in the areas they represent, City Councilmembers Ron Menor (Waikele to Ewa Beach) and Kymberly Pine (portions of Ewa Villages to Makua) gathered hospital officials and emergency responders at Honolulu Hale last Tuesday for a briefing on the status of emergency services in West Oahu.

Following the closure of Hawaii Medical Center-West in December 2011, residents have been without an Ewa emergency room or hospital.

Queen’s Health Systems has acquired the former HMC-West facility, with plans to open The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu in 2014, but councilmembers and many of the health care officials urged last week that emergency services in the area be established in the meantime.

“A lot can happen before (Queen’s West opens), and our residents will continue to endure longer transit times and lengthy emergency room re-routes that may cost them their lives,” Pine said in an interview following the briefing.

Medical leaders at the meeting included representatives from the state Department of Health, city Department of Emergency Services (DES), Pearl City Urgent Care, Pali Momi Medical Center, Tripler Army Medical Center, doctors practicing in the former HMC-West building, Queen’s Health Systems and Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

Each agency has made adjustments since the HMC-West closure. Pearl City Urgent Care, which opened just weeks before HMC-West closed, expanded its hours and added two treatment rooms. Pali Momi added more beds, including 23 in the emergency department, and increased its staff.

Tripler began accepting civilians following the closure, treating 500 civilians last year; it estimates treating 700 more by the end of this year. DES added an Ewa Beach ambulance that runs 16 hours per day.

Officials reported that no fatalities or other negative impacts to patient health have resulted directly from the closure.

Still, officials acknowledged that there have been longer ambulance transit times, as well as an increase in emergency room patients.

DES director Mark Rigg reported that ambulances must travel as far as Central Oahu when other hospitals reach capacity.

“So long as Leeward residents are forced to endure longer transit times and long-distance reroutes to out-of-area hospitals and emergency rooms, there is the very real threat that our residents will continue to face a greater risk of death or prolonged injury due to this gap in service,” Pine said.

Queen’s reported that it’s on track to get the necessary construction permits. It plans to open imaging, X-ray and ultra-sound services by Oct. 1, and the full-service hospital and emergency department should follow next spring.

But Menor and Pine urged Queen’s to expedite the construction schedule, or to offer limited interim emergency care services until it is ready to open at full capacity.

“We still have tremendous worry that our constituents are still at risk,” Pine said.

Queen’s senior vice president and chief operating officer of the West Oahu region Susan Murray said that this is a “very aggressive time frame.”

She stated that creating a safe, high-quality facility requires the current time-line.

Community members also were invited to share testimony.

Ewa Neighborhood Board chairman Ariel De Jesus testified as a private citizen, saying that his neighbor experienced a lengthy ambulance transport time after suffering a heart attack.

Menor and Pine said that they have heard similar stories from other residents in their areas.

“This is unacceptable, and is why we feel so strongly that an interim emergency care facility is so critically needed for Leeward residents,” Pine said.

De Jesus echoed that sentiment, saying that establishing an interim care facility would be ideal.

With the briefing coming on the heels of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, lawmakers and hospital officials questioned the area’s capacity to deal with a large-scale emergency.

“I couldn’t help but think, what if something similar happens like that on the Leeward Coast?” Pine asked at the meeting. “Would we really be ready for something like that?”