Staffing shortages at Emergency Medical Services came to a head this weekend when ambulance units were forced to shut down.
The department encountered a similar situation back in April.
According to Mark Rigg, Emergency Medical Services director, the department is trying to hire more people. He acknowledges that the department is understaffed, with employees having to work back-to-back 8-hour shifts on a regular basis.
“There have been situations that people during a week period may be unable to go home a couple of times, maybe even three times a week,” he said.
Over the weekend, Rigg said the ambulance unit in Nanakuli was shut down for two shifts. The Kaneohe and Queen’s Medical Center units were also idle for one 8-hour shift.
“We were having to force people to work extra shifts in order to keep the units open and it got to the point where we just had to send people home,” he said.
Rigg says staffing has actually improved since they had to close units down in April.
In two weeks, the department will have 27 vacancies. In April, there were 35.
Workers say it’s a high stress job. As for the pay, emergency medical technicians or EMTs start at about $43,000 a year. Paramedics who have more advanced training start at almost $55,000 a year.
The department has also been working with the United Public Workers union to switch to 12-hour shifts.
“We’re hoping that there’s going to be an agreement soon that in essence will enable to provide us with much less people on a daily basis,” Rigg said.
Until then, Rigg says they’re also counting on private company American Medical Response to provide backup.
“We utilize them and make arrangements with them to utilize them on that contract where we think there may be shortages,” he said.
Workers say the driver of the ambulance that crashed at Ala Moana Center on Saturday was on his second 8-hour shift.
However, Rigg told KHON2 he could not comment on the crash because it’s under investigation.