Bill would put medical responders in Maalaea

The state Senate has approved a bill to establish a daily, around-the-clock special emergency services medical response vehicle based at Maalaea, but the amended version includes no specified funding and wouldn’t go into effect until 2050.

The measure calls for funding to pay for a vehicle, equipment and personnel costs for staffing by a state-licensed paramedic and equipped with all appropriate emergency response equipment.

The bill notes that a medical response vehicle is estimated to cost $600,000 annually, or half the $1.2 million expense of an advanced life support ambulance unit.

An amended version of Senate Bill 498, advanced by the Ways and Means Committee, removed a proposed appropriation of $600,000, leaving the amount blank, and changed the measure’s effective date from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2050, “to encourage further discussion,” according to a committee report submitted by panel Chairman David Ige.

Referred to the Senate Health and Ways and Means committees, the bill received unanimous support in written testimony from approximately 60 people, including several Maui paramedics.

Curt Morimoto, Maui operations manager for American Medical Response, testified that resident and visitor population increases have driven up 911 emergency calls in the South and West Maui districts.

Calls from Maalaea increased 64 percent from 2009 to 2012, he said. The proposed special response vehicle would provide a faster response to the Maalaea community, where no fire or ambulance units are stationed, he added.

Morimoto noted that 2004 was the last year there were any emergency medical services state funds appropriated for service upgrades.

“Although transport is important, being able to render immediate lifesaving skills as well as administering critical medications may be the difference between life and death,” he said.

Pam Daoust of the Maalaea Community Association submitted testimony in favor of the special response vehicle.

“An SRV in Maalaea makes sense both in providing coverage for Maalaea itself and in allowing for a more prompt response to multiple emergencies in other locations where delays could prove life threatening,” she said. “As Maui’s population continues to grow, access to emergency, first-response treatment becomes even more desperately needed.”

Maui paramedic Jamie Pagan testified about personally being involved in a couple of cases in which delayed response led to patient deaths.

“In fact, in one incident, bystanders were quick to judge me, personally as ‘being slow to respond,’ not aware that I had to drive 26-plus miles to arrive at the scene,” Pagan said. “The person I attended to died. I firmly believe (that) had there been a special emergency response unit within the area, this may not have been the case.”

Maui Paramedic Association President Chris Rose submitted testimony in support of the measure, saying there’s been a steady increase in 911 calls in Maui County and transport times, particularly in West Maui, take longer because of traffic.

“Driving lights and sirens to a call is the most dangerous part of (emergency medical services),” he said. “More and more we are lengthening the response distances, increasing the chance of an accident. The increased time to get to the patient also decreases the chance of survival of patients in acute distress.”

Having a rapid response unit staffed with a paramedic in Maalaea “allows moves to either the west side, Kihei, Kahului or Upcountry to cover the area in need,” Rose said.

The Senate bill crossed over to the House, where it passed first reading and was referred to the Health and Finance committees.

The measure was introduced by South and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker, with support from Maui Sens. J. Kalani English and Gil Keith-Agaran and eight other senators, including Ige and Senate Health Committee Chairman Josh Green.

An identical measure, House Bill 379, was introduced by West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey with support from Maui Reps. Kaniela Ing, Joe Souki, Mele Carroll and Justin Woodson. That bill did not cross over to the Senate.

* Brian Perry can be reached at