EMS still waiting on budget cut decisions

State health officials, EMS have been in talks since summer

Ambulances sit parked outside Maui Memorial Medical Center in 2019. Emergency Medical Services officials are in limbo as they await a decision on potential budget cuts that they worry could lead to the loss of some stations on Maui. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Emergency Medical Service officials are still on standby as they await a decision on budget cuts that they worry could lead to the loss of multiple stations on Maui.

“We are very concerned about pending budget cuts to emergency services statewide,” Kapena Hill, union officer with the Maui County Paramedics Association, said last week. “This will result in the loss of more than one station on Maui. All units are fair game. Once funding is cut, it is unlikely to be restored for years.”

In July and August, the state Department of Health was in talks with all four county EMS providers in preparation for a potential statewide budget cut of up to 20 percent for the coming budget due to financial deficits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No decisions have been made and no timeline was provided.

“Those percentages were used as an exercise for discussion,” the Health Department said Friday. “The Department of Health recognizes EMS as an essential public health service and is committed to doing everything in its power to maintain Hawaii’s EMS services.”

Last week Gov. David Ige announced furloughs and pay cuts starting Jan. 1 for state workers. He said the furloughs would not apply to positions that support 24/7 functions or jobs funded from sources outside of the general fund. This includes first responders, medical and public safety personnel and employees at the departments of Commerce and Consumer Affairs as well as Transportation, which covers airports, harbors and highways statewide.

The paramedics association said “it’s promising news” but is still worried that things could change.

A few membership meetings were held to discuss different scenarios about how EMS could hypothetically meet those cuts, and their deadline was the end of November, Hill said. A final meeting was scheduled for Thursday last week, but it did not happen.

The current state budget allots about $90 million for Emergency Medical Services, and Hawaii’s EMS network also produces about $45 million a year in revenue by charging for ambulance and related services. DOH said Friday that “$18,262,132 is the budget ask for Maui County EMS, and an additional $485,916 is (the) annual cost for Maui dispatch services.”

Maui and Kauai County operate under American Medical Response to provide emergency response services, which means the Fire Department cannot provide transportation to the hospital even though they are usually dispatched to calls first.

Across Maui, there are two ambulances for West Maui; two for South Maui; one for Kula, as well as a private unit that conducts interfacility transfers and is not under government contract; one in Wailuku; one in the Makawao-Haiku area; a single paramedic unit in Maalaea that does not transport but can provide emergency medical support; and one ambulance each on Lanai and Molokai.

There’s also a helicopter available for remote areas like Hana, Kahakuloa, Lanai and Molokai in the event a patient needs emergency transportation to an advanced medical facility.

“We know that the governor and the state are looking at cutbacks and their financial rules are tremendously mounting,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino told The Maui News last week. “The county, on the other hand, continues to support the emergency services in whatever manner we can and if fiscal necessities do arise, we need to address that as far as keeping stations open.”

Hill said now is not the time to reduce health care services.

“The state is choosing to cut health care services during a pandemic, when visitors are starting to return, and more people are calling 911 for accidents and illnesses,” Hill said.

He said the paramedics association is advocating “for these crucial health services and request for our statewide EMS services to be preserved.”

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


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