Bill funding 2 new ambulances for Big Isle shelved

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

KAILUA-KONA — At the request of the Hawaii Department of Health, state lawmakers shelved a bill that would have funded two ambulances for Hawaii Island.

Money was already allocated by the 2018 Legislature for an ambulance in Puna, and the DOH wants to first focus on getting that operation up and running — and funded for future years.

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Last session, some $4.5 million was appropriated for ambulances in Hawaii County, the City and County of Honolulu and Kauai County, according to DOH Director Dr. Bruce S. Anderson. Of the $4.5 million, $1.5 million was allocated to Hawaii County to acquire an ambulance and staff it, according to state budget worksheets.

“The newly-appropriated Puna ambulance is currently being placed in service by the County of Hawaii,” Anderson told the Senate Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health during a hearing Feb. 1 for the ambulance measure, Senate Bill 877. “Discussions are ongoing to extend the funding for the new Puna ambulance in service and its uncertain future.”

Given that, he asked the Legislature to delay implementation of funding an ambulance for the Makalei are until the new unit in Puna is fully incorporated into the county EMS.

Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said the new Puna unit was funded for fiscal year 2019-20 only. It adds to the unit already stationed in Pahoa.

The DOH is asking for continued funding for the unit beyond 2020, Okubo added.

The Hawaii Fire Department, meanwhile, is currently seeking bids to furnish one ambulance for the island to replace a unit in the Waimea area. The solicitation for bids was posted Jan. 18 and closes Feb. 22.

Steve Wilhelm, with the county Purchasing Division, said while the county is initially asking for a single ambulance in South Kohala, the bid request states the number could increase to two so the Puna ambulance can be acquired without a second bidding process. If that occurs, an addendum would be added to secure the second ambulance for Puna.

“While the Legislature allocated the funds, the contract with the state has been signed by the county and just needs final signatures from the state,” Wilhelm said in an email. “We are anticipating the contract to be signed and returned to us so that the funds can be appropriated any day now.”

SB 877 was co-introduced by Sen. Dru Kanuha, D-Kona, Ka‘u) and two Oahu Democratic senators, with Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, among the co-sponsors. It sought $100,000 in fiscal year 2019-20 and an another $100,000 in fiscal year 2020-21 for ambulances in North Kona and Puna.

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It costs about $1.5 million to fund a unit for the first year, and $1.1 million for recurring years.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

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