KAHULUI - Maui County's paramedic corps recently grew by five, thanks to a program that allowed Maui residents to take classes on island and to receive a stipend to cover lost wages while earning their licenses.
Jessica Blank, Kevin Bonsell, Suzi Hobbs, Ryan Joslin and Kerri Mitchell, most of them with more than 10 years as emergency medical technicians (EMT) with American Medical Response on Maui, completed the 18-month Mobile Intensive Care Technician (MICT), or paramedic class, offered through Kapiolani Community College.
EMTs are, in effect, paramedic assistants who handle tasks involving basic first aid, splinting and running intravenous lines. The paramedic performs the more critical-care procedures, such as administering drugs and sticking needles in the bodies of the injured to create airways or to relieve chest pressure.
Kevin Bonsell (from left), Jessica Blank, Kerri Mitchell, Suzi Hobbs and Ryan Joslin recently completed an 18-month paramedic-training course through Kapiolani Community College. They were able to attend class on Maui via a fiber-optic link to Oahu. All five are back in their ambulances with American Medical Response.
"We are the eyes and ears of the physician," said Curt S. Morimoto, operations manager for American Medical Response, in a phone interview last week.
In the emergency medical response field, an EMT becoming a paramedic represents a logical career advancement. In addition to the greater responsibilities, paramedics get paid more, $24 an hour, as compared to $19 an hour for EMTs, Morimoto said.
It's been difficult for Maui and Neighbor Island EMTs to advance their careers because they had to attend classes and perform their internships on Oahu through Kapiolani Community College.
"This off-island training meant severe financial and family hardships for any Maui resident interested in continued MICT education," Morimoto said in a news release. "It threatened to bring the statewide shortage of paramedics to our county."
The Legislature, led by Maui lawmakers, secured funding for stipends for the Maui paramedic candidates and for a fiber-optic uplink that allowed Maui EMTs to attend class at Kapiolani's classroom on the Maui Community College campus via two-way television.
Some of the paramedics worked shifts during off-class days, and American Medical Response did its best to accommodate the paramedic candidates, Morimoto said.
"I think the stipend helped some of the five, if not all, to be able to afford to do it," he said. "A lot of them have families and children. . . . Without the stipend it would have been difficult."
They still had to fly over to Oahu for clinical sessions, observing emergency rooms and other hospital facilities, and doing shifts on the ambulances. And they were able to do two of the five months of an on-the-job, supervised internship with a preceptor at Maui Memorial Medical Center, he said.
Still, there was no getting around going to Oahu for part of the program.
"Honolulu is busier and (offers) more exposure to nastier stuff that is critical for the exposure and experience," he said, adding that the paramedic candidates must proficiently handle specified types of cases in order to pass.
On Oahu, some of the Maui paramedic candidates rented a place together, while others stayed with family, Morimoto said.
All five are back in their ambulances, part of American Medical Response's Maui County crew of 23 full-time EMTs and 35 paramedics. Morimoto noted that while there are shortages on Oahu, there are no openings in Maui County.
The technology is in place to offer another round of training, but the next program will be offered on Kauai, he said. Paramedic training may return to Maui in 2010, but program officials would have to seek additional funding for stipends, Morimoto said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.