Puna could receive another ambulance

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald An ambulance turns on to Waianuenue Avenue from Highway 19 on Tuesday in Hilo.

A bill making its way through the state Legislature seeks to increase ambulance services in Hawaii County.

Senate Bill 2158, introduced Jan. 19, would add funding for additional 24-hour ambulance services on the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu.

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Where the new ambulance service would be stationed would be determined by the individual counties. Puna has been identified as a possible location.

“Hilo Medical Center will monitor and support SB 2158 as it makes its way through the legislative process,” Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corp., wrote in a statement to the Tribune-Herald. “The Hawaii County Fire Department is our partner in health care. An additional ambulance in Puna is essential to providing timely care for the people of the district. Our support for this bill is aligned with our strategic plan to improve access to care in Puna.”

Dr. Alvin Bronstein, state Department of Health EMS Injury Prevention System branch chief, a medical toxicologist and ER physician, said the need for additional ambulances is a statewide issue that goes beyond Hawaii Island.

“There’s really a need for three new ambulances in Hawaii,” he said.

The state provides funds for ambulance services. When insurance pays for an ambulance call, that money then goes back into the state’s general fund, Bronstein said.

In fiscal year 2017, he said, the state provided about $75 million worth of ambulance services but collected only $42 million from private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

“It doesn’t offset it one-to-one,” he said. Even so, “I think that’s not bad. What other government agency is able to bring in this percentage?”

Residents and visitors are “very fortunate to have the 911 system that we have — it’s just something we have to support,” Bronstein said.

He calls emergency response an “essential service” that needs state support.

Hawaii Fire Department spokesman Jesse Ebersole said the Puna District needs another ambulance.

The district, at about 500 square miles, is close in size to Oahu “with a population of nearly 50,000,” he said.

“Puna is the largest geographic district and fastest-growing district in the state of Hawaii,” Ebersole said. “Puna’s population has increased by 58 percent since the 2000 census.”

That has led the Fire Department to take a strong stance, advocating on behalf of getting another ambulance stationed at the fire station Pahoa.

“We have been advocating and lobbying for an additional ambulance in Puna for years,” Ebersole said.

“Ultimately, there are numerous markers which would indicate a need, including, but not limited to, prolonged response times, response times having a negative impact on patient outcomes, response time impact in outlying districts whose ambulances are covering the Puna district, EMS crew fatigue and burnout.”

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The Fire Department, Ebersole said, “supports the funding requests for 24/7/365 ambulance units in the counties of Hawaii, Kauai and Honolulu.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.