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Mayor sets aside CARES funds for paramedics

Maui County Mayor Micheal Victorino said Friday that federal CARES Act funds have been set aside for emergency medical services, which could be facing budget cuts.

“We stand ready to put CARES money away for it right now, whatever we need to do to keep those services up to par and even try to increase it when we can,” Victorino said at a news conference.

The amount of funding was not disclosed.

Two months ago, the state Department of Health asked Emergency Medical Services statewide to prepare for budget cuts up to 20 percent amid budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Medical Response, which provides emergency services statewide, submitted its reduced budget proposal to the DOH on Aug. 17, which includes cutting multiple EMS units.

There is still no timeline for these potential cuts, according to a news release from the Maui County Paramedics Association earlier this week.

The association is seeking support from the community to avoid these “dangerously short-sighted” proposals.

“The threat of losing emergency services in the middle of a pandemic is dangerously short-sighted and very real,” said Kapena Hill, vice president of the Maui County Paramedics Association. “The Maui County paramedics stand alongside those that serve Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island in asking for help to prevent the cut of any emergency services statewide. 

“We urge residents to voice their protest.”

In 2019, there were 20,668 emergency calls in Maui County, the association reported. Emergency call volume in Maui County has increased 12 percent over the last five years, without any increase in budget or EMS staffing units.

There currently are 10 transport stations, one rapid response unit, and one medical evacuation helicopter serving Maui, Molokai and Lanai — including remote areas like Hana, Kahakuloa, Molokai and Lanai, the association said.

The absence of just one station would delay response time and coverage for other units, putting the severely injured and sick at greater risk, the association said. The medevac is one of the units that may be cut.

“Every community needs to understand that this could affect them both directly and indirectly,” Hill said. “The proposed cuts highlight a lack of regard for EMS value and will make it OK to make people wait longer for help when they call 911. This is not acceptable.”

The Health Department said late last month that the proposals are for “discussion purposes,” and that no timeline for a decision has been established. They asked the four county EMS providers to develop budget scenarios based on possible funding restrictions.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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