June 20, 2024

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City braces for impacts as Wahiawa General temporarily halts emergency services

WAHIAWA (HawaiiNewsNow) – Central Oahu’s only emergency room shut down operations over the weekend — in another big blow to Hawaii’s fragile health care system.

While the closure of the Wahiawa General Hospital ER is said to be temporary, officials have yet to provide a timeline for when emergency services will resume. The news comes just days after Wahiawa General also shuttered its embattled inpatient unit.

The emergency room at Wahiawa General Hospital stopped taking patients at midnight Sunday.

Health officials worry about the impacts the closure will have on the island’s other hospitals.

Many of those ERs are already full. There’s concern about whether they’ll be able to absorb the additional patients coming in.

Although Wahiawa General Hospital isn’t a trauma hospital, the facility could still treat patients who were in critical need of care.

“It was the closest ER to the North Shore that you can a critical patient like cardiac arrest or drowning anything traumatic injury and they can either stabilize or help the patient,” said Tony Altomare, a paramedic for the area for 10 years.

In a statement released Friday, the hospital said its air conditioning system were a key source of problems. Officials said the ER needed to be closed in order for critical repairs to be made.

Here’s the full statement:

“Over the past several years, Wahiawa General Hospital (WGH) has experienced a number of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) issues and other challenges relating to the aging plant and facility. These challenges have led to the closure of the ICU, and even more recently the temporary closure of the inpatient unit. Today, WGH faces yet another challenge with HVAC-related systems which service the Emergency Department and additional areas of the first floor of the hospital that require work to mitigate any potential risk to patients and staff. Due to the nature and scope of the work that needs to be accomplished during this project, the most appropriate course of action is to vacate the ED space while performing the work. This means that WGH will need to temporarily close down the Emergency Department as of Monday, March 18, to complete all work related to the HVAC systems involved. While the time line for the completion of the work is unclear at this point, we believe that this course of action provides the best opportunity to complete the work in the shortest amount of time. The entire downtime event of WGH’s Emergency Department closure will be coordinated along with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management, and other key agencies and organizations. All other WGH departments will remain open and continue with current operations and plans at this time.”

Despite Sunday being the ERs last day of operation, patients and their families could be seen going to and from the facility.

Some people who work and live in the area were only just hearing the news.

“That’s crazy, you know? What about the people down this side? Where there gonna go for emergency?” said Kekoa Silva, who works in Wahiawa.

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services says one of their biggest concerns is if people show up to the emergency room because they haven’t heard the news and then call 911 in a panic.

Dr. Jim Ireland discusses the impacts the emergency room’s closure will have on Hawaii’s healthcare system.

Officials say there is only one ambulance unit for Wahiawa so if that’s already out transporting patients, that means personnel would have to call in ambulances from other parts of the island.

“There’s a chance that we may need to increase our staffing in the area, put on extra ambulances or a rapid response vehicle depending on how long our regional ambulances are out of the area,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Services.

Ireland says the department is doing its best to prepare and will have the area’s EMS supervisor at the hospital to monitor the situation starting at midnight Sunday.

The Queen’s Medical System is expected to take over the hospital next month.

In a statement, Queen’s said its following the situation “very closely.”

The statement continued: “Over the past several months, our teams have been in close communication, and we have offered our assistance to the Wahiawa ohana. Queen’s is working closely with Honolulu EMS, WGH, and our community partners through HAH to ensure that patients in the Wahiawa and Central Oahu are provided access to Emergency Care. Our Emergency Department at both campuses are prepared for the expected increase in patients seeking acute care. We will provide more updates as they become available.”